MOUNT OLIVE - The 33rd annual North Carolina Pickle Festival was a family affair and birthday weekend for Ann Mixon and her family who traveled all the way from the Charlotte area for the Saturday event.

The 14 family members weren’t by themselves as tens of thousands of festival-goers packed downtown despite overcast skies and the threat of rain.

The Mixon party was four families totaling 14 people.

“My husband’s mother, it’s her birthday, so we are doing like a birthday weekend,” she said. “So we got hotel rooms, and we all came out.”

Mixon said the family members have no connections to Mount Olive other than they love pickles.

It was the first time they had attended the festival. Mixon found information about it online.

“So far we like it,” she said. “It is very local, which is cool. It’s very safe, which I like. My kids are here. It’s good people. Good fun. It is family friendly. Lots of pickles, we do like pickles. We have had fried pickles, regular pickles.

“We have played games. We have bought lots of lemonade. The lemonade is real good, and we have ridden rides so far. I think we are all getting ready to ride the Pickle Train. I hope they have enough seats. It is good to be with family doing events like this. It makes it special.”

Mixon said she would not be surprised if they return next year.

Mixon said her husband works at a school.

When his co-workers found out about the festival they were all jealous, she said.

“They were like, ‘I didn’t know about it,’ ” she said. “I was I guess you need to cruise the internet. I don’t know. I have a suspicion there will be a bigger group next year.”

Festival co-chair Julie Beck said her expectations had been high, but that she was also realistic that the weather could damper the festival.

“The pickle god is looking out for us today,” Beck said. “So far it is good. The crowds are picking up. I am really excited because I thought we were going to have, and we may still get a little bit of weather. But for now we are good. I am happy.

“I am dill-lighted. We didn’t have as many cars (for the car show) because of fear of the weather. We didn’t have our antique tractors and unfortunately our pony rides, camel rides and petting zoo couldn’t come because of the weather, but everything else came, and the weather is great. So, I can’t complain.”

Regardless of the weather for the rest of Saturday, it has been a great day, she said.

However, the weather turned into a spoiler when a thunderstorm blew in at about 2 p.m. bringing a brief period of heavy rain, but the festival continued as from one end of Center Street to the other and along side streets vendors were set up offering a variety of arts and crafts and carnival-type foods from funnel cakes to chicken on a stick.

Still other vendors were promoting businesses and services while local churches, civic groups and other organizations used the festival for fundraising.

There were three stages of daylong free entertainment as well as other free activities and events such as a street magician, and of course, plenty of free Mt. Olive Pickles.

The popular pickle-eating contest attracted a large crowd watching a field of 14 men and women competing to see who could eat the most kosher dill pickles in five minutes.

Lily Wolf cheered on her father, Dan Wolf, of Greensboro, but he lost out to Jake Kreider of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who downed six and a half pickles.

There was a tie in the women’s division between Codi Smith-Austin of Norwood and Patricia Davis of Goldsboro, both of whom also ate six and a half pickles.

The Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Honor Guard presented the colors during the opening ceremony in front of the main entertainment stage on North Center Street while Carl and Marie Ashley performed the national anthem.

“We welcome you to the 33rd annual North Carolina Pickle Festival, me and let’s bring my compadre Lynn Williams up here,” Beck said. “Lynn and I have worked hard all year long, and we are excited to see it come to fruition, and we know it is going to be an amazing event today.”

“I think we are going to have a dill-lightful day, and that it will be a day to relish long after today is done,” said Williams, who co-chairs the festivals sponsored by the Mount Olive Area Chamber of Commerce. “Everybody have a good time. Have a safe time and eat all the pickles you want.”

As part of the opening ceremony, Mayor Joe Scott ate the first pickle of the day while the band on stage played a drumroll.

“Before I eat this pickle, I want to say that this is the real dill today,” Scott said. “We want to welcome everyone from town, from our county, from our state and beyond to our Pickle Festival.”

Jason Sanford and Terri Anderson of Seven Springs said they come to the festival every year.

It is something local, close to home, and they have new things every year,” Sanford said. “You get to see different stuff and pick up a few things.”

And let the children run around. Anderson said.

They were among some of the early arrivals.

“We like to beat the crowd a little bit,” he said. “We are just going to walk around and see what we can see. We usually check out the old cars.

“And before the sun comes out, too, and it’s not so hot,” Anderson said.