04/22/07 — Mount Olive prepares for Pickle Festival

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Mount Olive prepares for Pickle Festival

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 22, 2007 2:00 AM

Nearly 60,000 free pickles were eaten at the North Carolina Pickle Festival in Mount Olive last year.

And while that might seem like a lot, if this year's crowd matches or surpasses last year's total of about 20,000 on Saturday alone, that only comes out to three pickles per person.

But, as attractive and as tasty as Mt. Olive Pickle Co.'s free pickles are, they're not most people's favorite part of the three-day event, which is in its 21st consecutive year.

"In general, I just like seeing everybody come out and have a great time," said Julia Beck, co-chairwoman of the organizing committee. "We have so few things that people can come out as a family to and this is just a great family event."

Her favorites, she added, are the performance stages on Saturday.

"You have such diversity. As a spectator you can always find something you can tap your toe to and get down to."

This year there are four stages -- one on each block of downtown -- featuring bands ranging from gospel to bluegrass to beach. Some of the bands and singers are local, some are regional, but co-chairwoman Gena Knode, president of the Mount Olive Area Chamber of Commerce, said all are good.

Headlining the entertainment will be groups such as Carolina Blue Grass, Life on the Line and the Mount Olive College Singers and Students.

One of the stages also will be devoted to dance groups and beauty queens.

But the stages are only a small part of the weekend.

Festivities actually begin on Thursday, with a downtown Pickle Pete Shopping Spree with specials, door prizes and giveaways all day. Events will continue with a golf tournament at Southern Wayne Country Club and a kickoff party for sponsors.

On Friday, downtown will be filled with carnival rides and games. From 5 to 9 p.m., visitors can ride for $9.

For those more in the mood to kick up their heels, the Band of Oz also will be performing at the Mount Olive Airport from 8 p.m. to midnight. Gates will open at 7 p.m. and a beer garden and food will be available.

On Saturday -- the weekend's biggest day -- events kick off with a Cucumber Patch 5K run at 7 a.m., followed by the Pickle Treasure Hunt for children at Westbrook Park at 8:45 a.m.

Festivities also will kick off downtown at 8:30 a.m. and will last until 5:30 p.m., with carnival rides, pig and duck races, plenty of food, arts and crafts vendors from around the region, information booths from local governments, non-profits and local businesses, antique cars and tractors, face painting, pony rides, a petting zoo, a mechanical bull and rock climbing wall and, of course, nearly 60,000 free pickles.

For Lynn Williams, community relations representative at Mt. Olive Pickle Co., though, the best part of the festival comes afterward, when the company buys the best pieces from the county students' pickle art contest and displays them around its offices.

Among the pieces already purchased are paintings of Queen Cleo Pickle, a play on Norman Rockwell's self-portrait painting, scenes from inside the company and, on the president's desk, a ceramic pickle man pencil holder.