GRITS Festival smashing success

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Last Saturday, throngs of people headed to the heart of historic Greenville for the Camellia City’s latest not-to-be-missed event.

The sun was shining and clusters of bright red and yellow balloons with grinning &uot;ears of corn&uot; brought smiles to faces. Music and the sound of children’s laughter spilled into the streets while the scent of good ol’ southern grits and biscuits wafted through the air of Confederate Park.

After much anticipation, Main Street's first Greenville GRITS Festival had arrived – and what a celebration it was.

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The crowds came

&uot;Look at this crowd – isn’t it fabulous?&uot; said Main Street Director Nancy Idland with satisfaction as she surveyed the park at mid-morning. Numbers were steady throughout the day until mid-afternoon, when preparations for trick-or-treating, college sports and other activities drew some local citizens away.

&uot;I thought it was quite a good day – very warm for this time of year, but all in all, a very good festival,&uot; said Dale Gates, a local stained glass artist whose work was on display Saturday.

Portions of the three streets surrounding the park were blocked off this year. The extra room provided space for food concessions, additional vendor spaces and a new line up of children’s activities, including a giant slide, moonwalk, football toss and a Velcro jump, for which kids could purchase a bracelet and slide, jump and toss to their heart’s content.

Kids once again enjoyed having a fantastical face painted on by talented artist Jackie Sport of Face-It, always a crowd favorite. And caricaturist Bill Jackson

had the folks waiting in line yet again for one of his clever drawings.

A crew of AmeriCorps volunteers kept the arts and crafts activities going, including stenciled camellia pillows and seasonal crafts, while the library ladies helped kids make colorful bat fans.

Grits: gotta have ’em

It wouldn’t have been a GRITS Festival without grits, of course. Homemade grits, sausage and biscuits along with sweet tea and ice water were served by the &uot;chef de jour&uot;, Main Street volunteer Jill Stallworth. Festival goers could create their own grits dishes, adding cheese, onions and other &uot;fixins’&uot; on hand.

Stallworth also took home first place honors in the first Greenville Grits Cook-Off, with the entry from Jan and Julie’s Coffee Caf\u00E9 (coming soon to Greenville) taking second place.

&uot;Wow, I really had to stop and think about my recipe for the grits dish – it was sort of a little of this and a little of that, but anyway, the judges liked it,&uot; said Stallworth with a grin. GRITS goers stopped by to enjoy bowls of grits throughout the day and praised their good southern flavor.

&uot;I have learned one trick – you have to really salt your water well before you add the grits. Otherwise, you can never get the taste right,&uot; Stallworth commented as she ladled out yet another serving. (Husband Steve said it was his stirring of the grits pot that gave it that special something.)

Little Madison O’Connor, visiting from Andalusia, certainly thought Stallworth had got it right. &uot;Oh, she just loves these grits,&uot; said Delane Whittle of Greenville as she fed the enthusiastic toddler.

The two sat on a park bench, Madison happily eating grits and wiggling to the lively tunes provided by local bluegrass gospel band, Southern Comfort.

&uot;Yep, she’s having a great time,&uot; Whittle said.

No dull moments

As Idland had promised, there was never a dull moment during the day-long event. In addition to several sets by Southern Comfort, magician Gary Ledbetter returned with his amusing magic show to delight audience members of all ages.

Bruce and Varnelle Brannen, along with Smoke the horse, once again brought western roping, trick shooting, cowboy poetry – and an amazing way with a bullwhip – to the park. &uot;Wasn’t he good? I couldn’t believe how he handled that whip,&uot; marveled festivalgoer Ramona Martin.

Those zany &uot;Imagine That!&uot; ladies, Beverly Wingard and Phyllis Haney, brought their red-and-white-topped tent and terrific storytelling abilities to the Camellia City once again. This year, the duo took audiences down to Old MacDonald’s Farm (just past the first Greenville exit) to make some &uot;Piggy Pie&uot; with Switch the Witch (a.k.a. Haney).

A new addition to the entertainment lineup was Matt Shepherd, who impressed the crowd not only with his singing ability but his skill as a songwriter. Shepherd, a Greenville native, and his cousin, guitarist Tim Millergren, performed as Cousins Two, ably performing both Top 40 country hits and some of Shepherd’s original compositions.

&uot;He’s really good, isn’t he? I’m impressed,&uot; said Annie Crenshaw as she manned the post at the Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society’s booth.

Helping the community

The BCHGS was just one of several local clubs, churches and organizations that participated in the festival. St. Thomas Episcopal Church offered its cookbook &uot;Without A Doubt&uot; for sale, along with treats made from recipes in the book.

The Greenville High School Band Boosters and Athletic Boosters served tasty hamburgers, hot dogs, polish dogs, cold drinks (which proved especially popular on such an unseasonably warm day) and other food items to hungry festival folks.

The Butler County Humane Society not only brought its trademark black-and-white T-shirts to the event, volunteers also brought along some adorable kittens and puppies looking for new homes to the GRITS Festival.

&uot;We’ve raised several hundred dollars for the society – it’s been a great day,&uot; BCHS volunteer Priscilla Davis enthused.

A silent auction offering items donated by local businesses and artists, including western boots, a stained glass angel, gift baskets and more, raised funds for Greenville Main Street projects.

Browsing galore

With more than 40 vendors at the new Greenville Grits Festival, festival-goers got to browse among a wide selection of wares, everything from unique handbags to hand-crafted birdhouses, along with dried and silk floral arrangements, children’s toys and clothing, jewelry, stained glass, original art and many other items.

Local potter Rosie Richardson Floyd was one of the artisans whose work was on display. Floyd said she’s been working at her craft the last couple of years as &uot;something I do for myself.&uot; She has her own kiln and workshop at her home on Halso Mill Road.

&uot;Working with the clay has helped save my sanity – and probably my husband’s, too,&uot; Floyd said with a laugh, adding, &uot;This has been a really nice day out here.&uot;

Pleasures of a small town

As adults browsed among the booths and visited with one another, kids watched shows, played together and ran about the park.

&uot;This is what I love about living in a small town – you can have an event like this, have a wonderful time together with your friends and know your children are safe,&uot; said Ramona Martin.

As the afternoon shadows lengthened and vendors and volunteers began packing up and tearing down, Nancy Idland heaved a very satisfied sigh.

&uot;How do I begin to thank everybody? This has been such a terrific day.&uot;