Inaugural town festival on the horizon

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Bring an appetite, break out your dancing shoes and prepare to tantalize your taste buds.

The Pickles, Pigs & Swigs festival is coming soon to downtown Mount Olive. The inaugural event is Nov. 20 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and runs in conjunction with the 2021 homecoming activities at the University of Mount Olive.

Admission is free.

“Everywhere I go in Wayne County, people are talking about Pickles, Pigs and Swigs, so it has really gathered the attention of people,” said Julie Beck, president of the Mount Olive Area Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s something unique, something different. Plus, people are ready for something to happen [downtown] because we haven’t had the Pickle Festival in two years. I’ve had nothing but positive comments about this new event that we’re going to offer and I’m excited about it.”

Or as Beck likes to say, “it’s a big DILL.”

Mayor Ken Talton proposed the idea for a pig cookoff and opted to call it Pickles, Pigs, Swigs and Digs. “Digs” was eventually dropped, which left the more-catchy, tongue-twisting phrase.

Beck said UMO officials offered their support and have scheduled alumni reunions downtown for the classes of 2011 and 2016. The festival will not interfere with the four-team Pickle Classic basketball event that runs Friday and Saturday evening at Kornegay Arena.

“We really started talking about this in May,” Beck said. “We were like, ‘is it even realistic to have this event’ and six months later, it’s feasible. It became 100% realistic because we got the right committee and everything has fallen into place.

“It’s been phenomenal.”

Roughly 20 hours before the festivities begin, 20 cook teams will gather in the parking lot at town hall Friday afternoon. They’ll cook pigs provided by Smithfield Foods that weigh between 125 to 135 pounds.

Judges from the NC Pork Council will sample each team’s barbecue Saturday morning and award prizes for first, second and third place. Afterwards, the teams will chop up the pigs into barbecue and sell plates with all the trimmings for $10 each.

Tickets are available in advance.

“You can either come to the live event here at Southern Bank park, sit down and eat your barbecue,” Beck said. “Or, there’s going to be a drive-thru at the far end of the town hall parking lot. You can pick up your plates and keep on trucking.”

Food trucks won’t be available.

Festival-goers can purchase either soft drinks, bottled water or visit a craft beer garden set up by R&R Brewing. Owner Ryan Roberts and his crew will serve beer from kegs and Michelob Ultra.

Three bands are scheduled to appear — hometown favorite Harmony Boys, Shannon Baker and Sometime Soon and Riggsbee Road, an all-female group that includes hometown native Shelley Kelly.

Shannon Baker and Sometime Soon will start at 11 a.m., followed by Harmony Boys at 1:30 p.m. and Riggsbee Road approximately two hours later.

All three play music with a bluegrass twist.

“We purposely chose bluegrass bands because when we decided to create this event, we decided we’re going to do all things agriculture because Mount Olive is an agricultural community,” Beck said. “You’ve got barbecue, craft beer, pickles, antique tractors and the last component is going to be the pickle train because they use [plastic] pickle barrels. People might say this is kind of a weird combination, but there was a reason for our madness.”

Beck said there will be two entry points to the festival.

Those who wish to purchase alcoholic beverages must show an ID and will receive a wristband. Unlike the annual Pickle Festival, people can drink anywhere inside a green fence that will cordon off a two-block area on either side of Center Street and Southern Bank.

Town officials granted Beck permission to create the unique environment.

“They won’t be contained in one little area,” Beck said.

Downtown businesses and chamber members will set up vendor booths.

Festival T-shirts, long sleeve only, will be available — $25 for sizes small through extra large and $30 for 2X and 3X. Colors are dark green, athletic gray and maroon.

Proceeds from the festival benefit downtown revitalization.

“It’s a fund that we’ll use to hire someone to come in, create a master plan and then, of course, down the road implement that master plan to revitalize our downtown,” Beck said. “It’s a win-win.”

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