A "berry" good time

Huge turnout for Blackberry Fetival
Jul. 14, 2013 @ 08:20 AM

Blackberries, black skies, packed streets.

Despite threatening skies, thousands from all over the region turned out to the 12th Annual North Carolina Blackberry Festival on Saturday in downtown Lenoir. Except for some drizzle, the rain held off.

Deborah Ashley-Smith, president of the Caldwell County Chamber of Commerce, estimated the turnout around noon at between 13,000 to 15,000.

Though the festival officially began at 10 a.m., parking lots began to fill up much earlier, and the vendors were up and running. The smell of kettle popcorn and corn dogs filled the air as folks, some pushing strollers, eagerly awaited the Blackberry Princess Pageant and the Blackberry Eating Competition.

"It's pretty neat," said Dudley Shoals resident Misty Clark, on her first visit to the festival. "I've been looking around, seeing what all they have."

Silvia Smith of Hickory entered her 5-year-old daughter, Michaela, in the pageant. Dressed in a black and white dress to pay homage to the blackberry, she took the stage and sang a song she wrote herself, about, of course, blackberries.

"She told us it was going to be a surprise," Smith said.

Marlie Maouney, 8, ended up being crowned princess, but Smith said Michaela's performance was equally worthy.

"I'm very proud of her," Smith said.

The tone was more serious when it came to the blackberry eating contest. Last year's winner in the kids division, Isaac Matthews, let slip his secret for success.

"I eat them one at a time, I don't really chew them up," he said. "The others try to make the biggest mess."

Eleven-year-old Matthew Turnmire's strategy was to pick them up out of the pint container and chug them down.

Zack Roberts, 15, wound up eating the most.

On the south end of Main Street, a long line formed to buy half-gallon boxes of blackberries, being sold out of the back of a Lineberger's Kildeer Farm truck.

A parade of folks pulling wagons of blackberry cobbler took to the streets just after noon. Live music set the lively tone for the rest of the festival, which ended at 4 p.m.

The streets slowly emptied as trucks were loaded up, while organizers eagerly await next year's festival.