Hundreds of festival-goers descended on Charleston Saturday for the seventh annual International Cowpea Festival and Cook-off.Live musical entertainment began before noon and continued through the …
Hundreds of festival-goers descended on Charleston Saturday for the seventh annual International Cowpea Festival and Cook-off.
Live musical entertainment began before noon and continued through the hot, muggy afternoon.
The evening's featured performer was Craig Wayne Boyd, the season 7 winner of "The Voice." There were a number of outstanding entertainers who took the stage throughout the afternoon.
Other than the all-star musical entertainment, the afternoon cook-off was a major event. Five professional chefs prepared recipes using a variety of cowpeas from Bush Brothers.
Festival-goers who purchase a $5 souvenir spatula were able to taste the culinary creations and vote for their favorite. Tasting took place over a three-hour period, from 2 to 5 p.m.
This year's winning chef was Tre Harris with Cleveland Country Club. His turkey, cowpea, grits and bacon recipe was a favorite with the festival-goers.
Other chefs competing were Kevin and Dana Caylor with The Crêpe Outdoors; Jeremiah Shope with Aubrey's Restaurant; Ceasar Thomas with Broad Street United Methodist Church and the Johnston Woods Retreat Center; and Mark Peppler with the Pita Pit.
Melissa Woody, festival co-chair and vice president for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce Tourism Development, was once again thrilled by the attendance and excitement.
She emphasized the number of festival's vendors (crafts and food), filled up far earlier this year than in years past.
She agreed the crowd was a little slow arriving at Charleston's Hoyt Berry City Park this year, perhaps delayed by the stifling, mid-day heat. By the start of the cook-off at 2 p.m., the crowd had arrived.
This is the seventh year of the festival, with Bush Brothers and company continuing as the major sponsor.
Other sponsors include Tennessee Arts Commission, Resolute Forest Products, Whirlpool, Don Ledford's auto dealership, CPO Pics, John Thompson Produce, Farm Bureau of Tennessee, Olin Chlor Akali Products, Companion Funeral Home, Haney Meat Company, Wampler's Farm Sausage, Homestead Lawn and Tractor, Cleveland State Community College, and Max PC Market.
A lesser level of sponsors, called "Cowpea Pals" included Blossman Gas, Calhoun Baptist Church, the Cleveland Daily Banner, Cleveland Insurance, Council Baptist Church, Farm Bureau Insurance, Farm Credit, Lonza, New Friendship Church and Mix 1043.1 WCLE.
Music began at 11 a.m., with the afternoon line-up including the country sounds of Uncle Hershel’s Favorite; Cotter Hill, who recently received a “Nashville’s Next” award; the bluegrass of Cool Mule Revival ; Monday Night Social's alternative country sound; and regional favorite Just Us Bluegrass.
Boyd took the stage late in the evening for his concert. His headliner performance was sponsored by the Chamber and the Tennessee Arts Commission.
Other activities at the festival included storytelling, a family fun field with games, air toys and a petting zoo. There was a character-greeting photo opportunity with the “Princess and the Cowpea.”
A favorite opportunity for many visitors were the offerings at the arts and crafts booths. handmade items, fresh produce, honey, and many other items were available. There were a couple of booths providing heritage information, telling of Charleston’s significant history.
Food vendors are always popular, and most had steady business throughout the afternoon and evening.
Parking had been a concern heading into the festival, but Charleston Police Department officers, with plenty of assistance from the Bradley County Sheriff's Office, kept a steady flow of traffic in and out of the festival location, and along Highway 11. The new parking lot adjacent to the municipal building was a huge benefit.
Proceeds from the festival are used to fund the operations of the Hiwassee River Heritage Center, which opened in May 2013. It is located on Highway 11, in Charleston, just south of the city park. The Heritage Center is currently closed for expansion and is set to reopen in December.
• The Historic Charleston Cumberland Presbyterian Church, located near the festival location, was opened for tours during the day. This was the second year of the tours, with a tentative plan to continue next year.
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