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Staff file photo by Robin Rudd / South Cedar Aveneue in South Pittsburg becomes the boardwalk during the final day of the National Cornbread Festival was held in South Pittsburg, Tenn. on April 30, 2017.

The National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, has been officially canceled after organizers said scheduling conflicts with vendors and other festival participants would result in a sub-par event that isn't what people expect.

Until 2020, the event was on a 23-year uninterrupted run, cornbread festival spokesperson Amy Rogers said Tuesday, but the coronavirus, delays and conflicting schedules combined to make putting on the festival practically impossible last year.

There will be no 2021 festival either, thanks again to impacts from the pandemic on everyone's schedules, Rogers said.

Officials initially announced a delay in January, hoping to reschedule the festival for fall, but new hurdles greeted 2021 festival organizers. The shift of some spring festivals across the region to fall caused a short supply of vendors.

"There are a lot of other festivals that are already happening in the fall and lots of things already on fall calendars for folks. It's a busy time of year," Rogers said.

Vendors and other exhibitors have already committed to other fall festivals, "and there's a carnival that we always have that is a huge part of the festival that was already booked up for the fall," she said. "We're all very disappointed but it basically boils down to so many other things happening in the fall. There were just too many conflicts on the calendar."

And the cornbread festival should continue to improve on itself every year it's held, Rogers said.

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Staff file photo by Erin O. Smith / Emmerson Reed, 10, of Clearwater, Fla., pours batter into a skillet during the 4-H cornbread cook-off at the 22nd annual National Cornbread Festival in 2018 in South Pittsburg, Tenn. Reed was making brown butter, blue cheese and honey cornbread.

"We don't want it to be halfway. We want it to be better than it's been in the past, and in order to do that, the committee figured it was best to stick to the April timeline," she said. "It takes a lot of planning and a lot of background, up-front work. For an April festival, we start working in the fall, so it would be really hard for us to pull it together and make it what everybody expects it to be."

South Pittsburg Mayor Samantha Rector said the cancellation was a disappointment for everyone in town but understandable considering fall's busy schedule and the far-reaching impact of the coronavirus.

COVID-19-triggered cancellations and delays in 2021 are no rarity.

The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, was delayed from June to September; the Tennessee Strawberry Festival in Dayton, Tennessee, usually held in May, was downsized and delayed until June; and Down Home Days in Chickamauga, Georgia, has been delayed from June until another date is announced, according to online schedules and previous reports. Other events around the region felt similar impacts.

In Chattanooga, Riverbend Festival organizers are tentatively planning a fall edition of the event usually held in late May or early June, but nothing is confirmed.

Beth Duggar, president of the National Cornbread Festival board of directors, said it was a tough decision but necessary and the festival will be better for it. The festival is organized by 21 committees that oversee various parts of the event, she said.

"We considered all kinds of different avenues," Duggar said. "But in the long run, the best decision was not to try to move it or have it later in the year and to wait until spring when our normal date is and make it the best one we've ever done."

Volunteers will focus on that goal for next spring, according to Rogers.

"We're all very disappointed, of course, but we're super excited for 2022," she said. "We're going to have a fantastic festival next year. We're going to be bigger and better with a bang since it's been two years now."

Besides, "we're starving for cornbread," Rogers said.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

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