By CHERIL VERNON
Colorful floats and performing bands in the parade, pepper-eating contests, live music headlined by JB & the Moonshine Band, festival food such as turkey legs and funnel cakes and rides and activities in the Little Pepper Kids Zone made the Hot Pepper Festival in downtown Palestine the “Hottest Little Festival in Texas” Saturday.
“We had lots of vendors, lots of food, lots of music and lots of fun for the kids,” Hot Pepper Festival co-director Heather Hrebec said Monday. “The weather held out and JB and the Moonshine Band gave us a great show! All in all it was a great day to be in Palestine.”
Hot Pepper Festival Co-Director Roy Crouch agreed.
“We had approximately 10,000 attend the festival with 3,200 to 3,500 attending the JB & The Moonshine Band concert on the main stage Saturday night,” Crouch said. “It was a packed house and a very exciting environment. I think they put on an outstanding concert for our community.”
The festival kicked off on Friday night with live music in The Hollow in Old Town Palestine.
Festivities continued on Saturday starting with the Hot Pepper Express Parade featuring a myriad of floats, classic cars, fire trucks and bands. Westwood, Elkhart and Palestine bands performed with Trinity Valley Community College's band and the Cardettes making a special appearance.
Winning first place in the non-commercial float category (with cash prizes) was the Palestine Police Department's Hot Pepper Express train float. Rotary Club of Palestine won second place and Anderson County Roughnecks won third place.
In the commercial float category, Hometown Girls won first place, Shorin Ryu Karate Academy won second place and Barber Creekside Daycare won third place.
Westwood High School's Panther Band won first place in the band category with Elkhart High School coming in second place. Palestine High School's band did not register to compete in the competition.
Trophies can be picked up at the Palestine Civic Center, Hrebec said.
“A lot of people do not realize this is the second year in bringing back the actual Hot Pepper Festival. The united goals that we all have had is giving something back to this community — something everyone can enjoy and making it for the whole family and people of all ages,” Hot Pepper Festival Executive Committee member Gerri Simpson said. “Our parade was hands down the best we have had in years. We had over 60 entries. Our vendors also grew largely this year.”
Simpson said she is excited about how far the festival has come in such a short time.
“Seeing the peppers back on the street, pepper eating contest, the crowds, farmers market, it all reminds me of what I remember of downtown many years ago. I am grateful to be a part of bringing that back and being a part of the Hot Pepper Festival Committee,” Simpson continued.
Arts and crafts vendors were set up along the streets of downtown Palestine Saturday with vendors selling everything from hats, jewelry, crafts and purses and marshmallow gun poppers for the kids.
The Chuck Wagon Old Fashioned Soda booth ran by proprietor Tim Rose, who calls Valley Forge, Penn. home, offered festival-goers old fashioned soda choices and free samples. Those who purchased a drink received it in a commemorative tin cup.
“We have a sarsaparilla recipe from the 1800s made in the middle of Pennsylvania with pure cane sugar, no caffeine,” Rose said. “It is 'sodalicious.'”
The vendor offering Pepper Smack premium pepper products said he got more than 10 people to try his products, which were guaranteed to be made from the hottest peppers in the world. Fitting in perfectly at the Hot Pepper Festival, he offered several out-of-the-ordinary pepper sauces including Trinidad Morgua Scorpion, Jays Ghost Scorpion, Bhut Jolokia “Ghost” and Chocolate habanero. For information, visit www.peppersmack.com
The Vietnam Veterans of America Dogwood Chapter 991 sold raffle tickets for a gun to raise money for their scholarship fund, as well as selling a wheel barrel full of items to raise funds to help the organization bring the Vietnam Wall to the Memorial Day celebration at the Texas State Railroad Palestine Depot next year.
“It's been a great day. Lots of people, lots of participation,” VVA Dogwood Chapter 911 member Dan Poole said.
Caden Bailey, 8, and his brother Camrin Bailey, 6, rode in the Palestine Police Department's Hot Pepper Express Train float during the parade. Caden suffers from a rare neurodegenerative disorder called Niemann-Pick Type C Disease, which causes progressive deterioration of the nervous system.
“The Palestine Police Department asked if Caden would be on the float. It was pretty neat having him be involved. He got to be the head coordinator on the train,” said their mom, Ashley Bailey. “We've had a pretty fun day with the family and cousins. They've been eating cotton candy and having fun.”
Diane Davis was working at the Citizens on Patrol booth, where she and other Citizens on Patrol alumni from the first class sold sausage-on-a-stick, hot dogs, hamburgers and other festival fare.
“All the money we raise will be used for the police department. It's my goal to raise thousands of dollars for new radios and computers and things they need. We may be a long way off, but that's what we are going for,” said Davis, who serves as the Citizens on Patrol's vice president.
Davis was happy with the festival turnout.
“It's been good — a bigger crowd than I thought it would be,” Davis said.
Other events during the festival included a barbecue and chili cook-off in The Hollow, a Longhorn exhibit, farmers market, antique tractor show, Macho Pepper Eating Contest, Oli-Peña Costume Contest, Little Peppers Kids Zone, BARC Hot Puppy Fest and a Shadowhawk Blades & Swords demonstration.
“Everything from our food vendors to arts and craft vendors, and especially the events we had, we had hundreds of great comments about how positive it was for our community and people were really excited about being a part of an event this size,” Crouch said.
Crouch and Hrebec gave credit to the Hot Pepper Festival Executive Committee for all of their hard work in planning the festival and bringing it to life.
“The executive board of the Hot Pepper Festival made this the best festival ever in Palestine. We have a lot of praise for not only the executive board, but also to all of our sponsors, who paid the bills to help us put on a top-notch festival,” Crouch said. “We couldn't make it happen without their support and community pride in wanting to put out a quality product on the ground for our community.”
A few thousand people were still in the downtown area even as of 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Crouch said.
“We certainly kept people in the downtown area longer than in the past. It was exciting to see our festival goers participate longer than usual,” Crouch said. “And maybe that's what helped attendance later that evening.”
Entertainment on all three stages throughout the festival Saturday also kept the crowds going.
“From the Hollow to the Family Stage to the Chili Pepper Stage we had top-quality entertainment. I feel like that helped make a big draw for festival goers, to be a part of something pretty big,” Crouch said. “It was exciting for us as a staff and exciting as an executive committee. The sponsors were really pleased with the overall turnout of the festival and the headliner concert later that night.”
Crouch gave a special “shout out” to the city staff, including the Parks and Recreation Department, Street Department and Water Utility Department.
“We cross over other departments to secure volunteers and paid staff. Between them all they did a great job putting all of the logistics to work to make the event a success and we want to say 'job well done.' It takes a lot of people to put something like this on,” Crouch said. “There were a lot of long hours that went into this event, starting when we first started meeting to plan it in February and March.”
Good weather made the festival even better — and the threat of heavy rainfall waited until the end of the main concert to start.
“The storm blew in just as the concert ended,” Hrebec said. “We had been monitoring the storm and knew that it was coming, but that it was just rain. I want to give kudos to the J.B. & The Moonshine Band and its manager for staying on top of it. J.B. made sure that they played song after song without taking a break before the storm came in.”
Hrebec said those who attended the concert Saturday night got a good show.
“Having the big stage on Spring Street with the trains going by makes for a good night,” Hrebec said.