There is no better indicator that times are bad then when a small South Carolina town cancels is annual festival. South Carolinians love a good festival in their towns.
There are too many to name, but a few stand out. During the spring and summer, there are festivals like the Poultry Festival in Batesburg-Leesville or the Gilbert Peach Festival. The late Senator Storm Thurmond rode his horse in the latter once. There is the frog jumping contest in Springfield and Hillbilly Days up in Mountain Rest. Then there is Belton’s Standpipe Festival. When the fall comes, there are festivals such as Wagons to Wagner which used to bring in hundreds of campers to the little town. Even Honea Path has its Fall Festival, complete with a honey soppin’ contest.
The most famous of the fall festivals has to be the Chitlin’ Strut in Salley. Traditionally held on the weekend after Thanksgiving, because frankly, it is just wrong to prepare chitlins when it is hot, the Chitlin’ Strut has been one of South Carolina’s little cultural gems, complete with a parade featuring Santa Claus. (For those who you do not know, chitlins are hog intestines which are boiled and then fried to eat.)
Once on the list was the Maize Days festival in Santee. Count that festival off for this year. According The State and The Times and Democrat, the town of Santee canceled the festival, and in a true sign of the times, is considering a town wide yard sale instead.
Perhaps it is a larger sign of the times that such local festivals are struggling to survive. In the age of instant entertainment, it is no longer a big deal to have a small carnival come to a small town and to have locals try to make a buck on their cooking and crafts. There is no thrill in seeing some small time act or ex big time act come perform when one can download every song they ever performed.
Such festivals were also political. At one point in South Carolina’s history, a politician ignoring them did so at his own political peril. As recent as the late 1990s, such festivals were a chance for people to actually meet statewide candidate office seekers of all stripes.
Perhaps the move by the town of Santee is a sign of where things are headed in South Carolina. Perhaps such festivals will now only be a source of memories. As a child, the “Honey Soppin,” in Honea Path was a big deal. I rode a Ferris wheel, albeit a small one, for the first time at one. I saw Porter Wagner stumble through his concert, which now I would judge him as pretty drunk. I got to camp at Wagons to Wagner. I did not know what a chitlin’ was but was pretty happy to go with my parents to the Chitlin’ Strut. As a young adult in 1994 working for the Bob Peeler for Lt. Governor Campaign, I got my first really big dose of retail politics helping throw out candy along side the famous Peeler Cow in the Gilbert Peach Festival Parade. I also got a dose that day of South Carolina humility. I was proud of the Peeler Cow, and bragged on it to one of my great aunts, who simply remarked she was there to hear the gospel singing.
On this blog and beyond, I advocate governments funding first things first, so I have no problem with Santee canceling their festival on that level. I understand. However, forgive me for taking a moment to lament the slipping away one of the better things about South Carolina culture, the small town festival.