By CHERIL VERNON
The City of Palestine is estimating that 10,000 people attended the return of the Hot Pepper Fest in Palestine Saturday with a myriad of events ranging from a parade, Macho Man Pepper Eating Contest and live music.
“For our first year back, I think things went well. The feedback from the public and vendors has been promising. The variety of entertainment, from the blacksmith to the music has received positive response,” City of Palestine Event Coordinator Heather Hrebec said. “Bringing back favorites like the pepper eating contest and the street dance have been popular as well. But, there is always room for improvement and the committee will be meeting to go over ways to improve the festival for next year.”
The festival kicked off on Friday with Hot Pepper Fest Chili & BBQ Cookoff in Old Town that included a music lineup with Texas music artists Jason Cassidy and Jaron Bell that continued until 11 p.m.
On Saturday, hundreds of Palestine residents of all ages lined the streets to watch the Hot Pepper Fest parade with the theme “Back to the Pepper.”
“We have received lots of positive feed back on the parade. The creativity of the entries was wonderful to see and we hope the participation level continues next year,” Hrebec said.
The Cars of Palestine, for example, gave their decorated antique cars participating in the parade special pepper-related “Auto Family Reunion” names such as “Daddy Chilitego,” “Brother TransTobasco, “Brother Torinopeño,” “Cousin Holliepeño” and “Aunt Cayenne Cougar.”
Interesting floats included the “Hot Pepper Factory,” the “Back to the Future” themed-time machine float and the “Hot Pepper Fest or Bust” float featuring red peppers riding in a car with a banner “Hot Pepper Fest or Bust: We Are Coming Home.”
Parade winners by category included:
• Floats — Hot Pepper Factory, first; Anderson County 4-H, second; and Cub Scouts Pack 440, third.
• Cars — Cars of Palestine, first; Leadership Academy, second; and Elkhart Volunteer Fire Department, third.
• Equine — Jose Sanchez, first; and Tejas Riders, second.
The first-place winner in the float category will receive a $300 cash prize. Trophies and prizes can be picked up at the Palestine Civic Center during regular business hours.
Following the parade, a sea of people flooded the streets of downtown and Old Town Palestine for the festival that featured music and entertainment on three stages through 11 p.m. Saturday.
Texas music chart-toppers, the Casey Donahew Band, headlined the final performance on Saturday night.
“The feedback from the public has been very positive. They liked having local bands play at the event as a way of featuring the best of Palestine,” Hrebec said. “Even though it was cold out we still had between 1,000 to 2,000 in attendance for Casey Donahew.”
Local bands performing Saturday included The Bigsbys and Backseat Molly. Other bands included Scooter Brown, Random Axis, Guppies from Outer Space, Darc Thirty and Confessions of St. Augustine.
Local groups Academy of Dance, Steps of Faith Dance Studio and Dogwood Square Dancers also performed on Saturday.
Crowds gathered around to watch those brave enough to enter the Macho Pepper Eating Contest on the Jalepeno Stage in downtown Palestine as the contestants squirmed to keep the hot peppers in their mouths.
One contestant ate a record 14 habanero peppers, Hrebec said.
“Brookshire’s Grocery sponsored the pepper eating contest. There were three contests and participants tried peppers at different heat levels and had to follow the instructions such as holding the pepper in their mouth for so many seconds before chewing and such,” Hrebec said. “Manager Tommy Cross and the rest of the staff did a great job!”
In Old Town, winners were named in the Hot Pepper Fest Chili & BBQ Cookoff, including:
• Barbecue — Down & Out BBQ, first and second place (chicken).
• Brisket — Brush Creek Trading, first; Down & Dirty BBQ, second.
• Ribs — Down & Out BBQ, first; Aerospace Cookers, second.
• Chili — Cuckoo’s Nest Crew, first.
• Beans — Down & Out BBQ, first.
“Everyone seemed to enjoy the Chili & BBQ Cookoff. The number of participants was more than I expected for our first go,” Hrebec said. “Glenn Conner and Joey Williams did a fantastic job coordinating this event and seeing it to the finish. Everyone there had a great time.”
Downtown Palestine’s O’Sweet Pea owner Heather Calhoun held a sidewalk sale in conjunction with the festival and other downtown businesses enjoyed added traffic to their establishments.
“This was the first time I’ve had a sidewalk sale in conjunction with a festival and it’s done really good,” Calhoun said. “I’m so glad so many people came out to enjoy the weather.”
“Salsa Lady” Terry Windham of Center sold salsa, habanero cranberry jelly and jalapeno jelly, as well as five kinds of sweet pickles, at her booth at the Hot Pepper Fest.
“I sold out of my Habanero Ghost Salsa — the hottest salsa I make,” Windham said. “But even though it’s hot, you can still taste the flavor.”
Vendor Lonnie Upton of Oakwood sold western-themed wooden planters during the event.
“This is my first year and I feel like I’ve done pretty good,” Upton said. “I really like the return to the Hot Pepper Fest. I think it has made a big difference in the attendance.”
Shadowhawk Blades out of Winnsboro set up a blacksmithing booth, specializing in Japanese-style knives, custom kitchen knives and swords for the festival.
“Historically, the blacksmith was the person you went to in town. He was the philosopher, the one you discussed political debates,” Shadowhawk Blades business manager Sarah Adams said. “It was the place where old men would meet before the general store came along.”
Other events during the Hot Pepper Fest included the Hot Pepper Project Show held at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church and the 4-H Petting Zoo that featured animals ranging from cows, chickens, goats, rabbits, horses and more.
“We had a great turnout — lots of people were really infatuated with the animals and the kids had a lot of fun,” Cayuga 4-H adult leader Audrey Alexander said. “We had participation from several 4-H clubs including Cayuga 4-H, Old Cayuga 4-H, Neighborhood 4-H and Slocum 4-H.”
View more photos from the Hot Pepper Fest online at www.facebook.com/palestineheraldpress