WALLACE — Duplin County residents love their hometown festivals, those annual get-togethers to toast some of the finer things in rural life — pork, fried chicken, barbecue, strawberries and pickles.
The Covid-19 pandemic made festivals all but disappear last year.
Some organizers are hoping to see their town’s staple days reappear on the 2021 calendar.
Others have already decided the time-frame was too short to plan an event.
A few are attempting to have virtual events. Some will mix virtual with in-person activities.
And like everything in the past 13 months, any line-item date is subject to change.
Yet the absence of fund-raising, family-friendly festivals has left a hole in the social life of communities.
“They don’t come here just for the barbecue,” said John Weston, Beulaville Chamber of Commerce President about Hog Wild, a festival that has been around for a quarter of a century.
“Not having it affected a lot of people. From vendors, to the revenue we get and then put back into the community to the people who just come out to socialize with their friends.
“We must get 2,000 or more people out for it.”
Hog Wild, held the second Saturday in October, was a buy-barbecue-plate-only event last year. There were no bands, vendors or gathering whatsoever.
Weston is optimistic about this year’s event, slated Oct. 8-9, the first ever two-day event.
“That means we’ll be cooking on Thursday and Friday night, with our regular cookoff on Saturday,” he said.
Over in Rose Hill, organizers are wondering if they will be able to deep-fry 365 chickens into one pan on Nov. 6 at the Poultry Jubilee.
“We anticipate making an announcement by the end of April,” said Amy Turner, one of the organizers.
For some people, it’s the kickoff of the holiday season.
Turner is ready to write off last year, sans the event’s scholarship pageant, which was held.
“It’s a tradition in our community, and if you miss it one year it feels incomplete,” she said. “It’s the best morale booster for a community. We have a good feeling it will come together since things are improving with vaccinations.”
Wallace’s Strawberry Festival in the first weekend of May is up in the air, as well, but it appears as if it might not come to fruition.
“A core group started talking about it in December and then got together in January and came to the realization that too much is still up in the air to proceed,” said Wallace Mayor Charley Farrior.
“Covid has done us all in. It takes months of work to get ready for our event.”
Farrior said missing the festival for consecutive years has many downsides.
“We lose the opportunity to celebrate with family, neighbors and all our friends,” he said. “The event has a real excitement level to it.”
Meanwhile, in Mount Olive, a festival is once again in a pickle.
The North Carolina Pickle Festival will have few social events and many virtual ones.
Even so, the festival on April 23-26 is an upgrade from last year’s cancelled event.
The pandemic shut down schools, businesses and many forms of everyday life weeks before organizers made a decision to cancel the festival.
“We’re having it, but it’s clearly not the same,” said Lynn Williams, PR Director for Mount Olive Pickle Company, and a longtime organizer. “We made a decision in January based on the governor’s guidelines, and we certainly don’t have a crystal ball to see into April.”
The event is one of the earliest state-wide festivals in festival season — Easter to Halloween.
“We’re just on the edge of coming out of the pandemic, but it still makes it hard to cut back so much on the festival,” Williams said. “We have to think about costs you can’t recoup, too. So it’s a hard thing to do.”
The Pickle Festival is one of the best all-around festivals in the southeast.
“What this does speaks to the vibrancy and pride in a community,” Williams said. “I always call it a combination of street fair, community festival and family reunion. So this is a loss of life and spirit not to have it as we normally do.”