Rain puts damper on festival

Published 8:21 am Sunday, April 15, 2007

The vittles must include okra, and the fiddles will work in the rain.

The smaller-than-normal crowd learned those two lessons at Saturday’s annual Vittles and Fiddles Festival that benefits the Vidalia Fire Department.

Rain and storms early in the morning almost canceled the whole event, but in the end everything turned out OK, Fire Chief Jack Langston said.

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Langston pulled the plug on the official gumbo cook-off judging early in the day, but he couldn’t stop the people’s choice vote from occurring.

Organizers sold taste test kits to festival-goers interested in trying the fixings of four cooks. One kit meant tasters could try out all the batches and cast a vote for their favorite.

Sam Shields of Slaughter, La., won the title. His secret? Okra.

Shields 35 quarts of gumbo was the only batch to include the veggie.

“I had a woman from Indiana who said she’s never eaten gumbo,” Shields said. “She liked it.”

Shields and his wife came to last year’s festival as a part of the Gulf Coast Hi-Lo Travel RV group. This year he decided to participate in the contest.

Organizers made $430 from the gumbo sales. Tallies for entrance fees and other concession items were not yet available.

VFD Assistant Chief Ben Adams estimated Saturday’s crowd at between 250-300, half of what they’ve had in the past, he said.

“It’s about what we expected with the weather,” Adams said.

Most of the crowd made a day of it, setting up lawn chairs and buying refreshments while listening to bluegrass tunes.

“I was really ready to call it of,” Langston said. “But I talked to band members and they said ‘We’ve played in the rain before.’”

Approximately 60 people attended Friday night’s free show.

Langston said the festival will continue in coming years, and rain will no longer be a problem once the new Vidalia Convention Center is completed.

The site will serve as a backup in the case of bad weather.

Proceeds from the event will fund the construction of a fire training facility in Vidalia.

This was the fourth year for the festival.