What: National Cornbread Festival
When: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, April 27; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, April 28 (all times Central)
Where: Downtown South Pittsburg, Tenn.
Admission: $5 per day, preschool children free
One weekend a year, tiny South Pittsburg, Tenn.'s population surges from 3,000 to as many as 40,000 folks as visitors arrive from across the country to celebrate cornbread and great cooks.
The 17th annual National Cornbread Festival takes place this Saturday and Sunday, April 27-28. The huge street party sprawls the length of Cedar Street in downtown South Pittsburg.
This salute to cornbread and the town's major employer, cast-iron foundry Lodge Manufacturing, offers two stages of live music, food and craft vendors, an historic-homes tour, living-history exhibits, films in the newly renovated Princess Theater, a general store and more ways to serve cornbread than anyone can imagine. It's also the only weekend of the year that Lodge Manufacturing opens its doors for free tours.
If it's your first trip to this festival, head straight for Cornbread Alley. Kim Mantooth, festival marketing director, says the alley is located in the 300 block of Cedar Avenue.
Don't dawdle browsing the 65 arts and crafts booths, where only original work may be sold. Don't let the kids detour you to the bungee jump and other fun activities in Children's Corner. Head straight to the Cornbread Alley tent, where nine nonprofits will serve up a cornbread buffet like you've never seen. And you can sample everything for just one $4 ticket.
On the menu: three styles of hushpuppies, chicken and cornbread, cranberry cornmeal bars, four types of cornbread including broccoli-cheese, apple-cinnamon and Tuscan; and Raymond's Lemon Creme Coffee Cake.
A line two blocks or longer has been the norm for this attraction at previous festivals. To cut the wait time, Mantooth says a second line has been added this year to move visitors through faster.
Also new this year, she says, is a broader use of the restored historic Princess Theater. A schedule of films and music has been lined up from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days.
"(The band) Stone River Pilots on Saturday at 3 p.m. is a big crowd favorite," Mantooth suggests for a visit to the Princess. "This is their third year to come back to the festival."
Other music highlights include performances by soul/Motown band Scenic City Soul Revue (Saturday, 4 p.m., First Volunteer Stage), Rhonda Vincent and the Rage (Sunday, 1 p.m., First Volunteer Stage), Mountain Cove Bluegrass (Sunday, 1:15 p.m., Citizens Park Stage), gospel group Heirline (Saturday, 4 p.m., Citizens Park Stage) and Marty Raybon (Sunday, 3:30 p.m., First Volunteer Stage.)
But the highlight of every cornbread festival is the crowning of a new National Cornbread Champion. This year's cookoff takes place at 1 p.m. Saturday, with 10 finalists coming from as far as Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas and Colorado in hopes of taking home bragging rights, a $5,000 prize and new FiveStar gas range from Brown Stove Works.
The National Cornbread Festival retains its small-town charm because of its family-friendly atmosphere. It is Southern hospitality at its finest, where everyone greets their neighbors by name and offers their guests great homemade cooking washed down with a cold glass of sweet tea.
Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.