FRANKFORT – Other states may have their festivals, but few if any can compete with Kentucky when it comes to the sheer number and themes we have.
If it’s a local product that you can eat, listen to, burn or ride, there is a good chance a community somewhere in the commonwealth has dedicated at least a weekend to it.
The food-oriented festivals alone would overflow a dinner plate. There are the usual staples you might expect – apples, chicken, country ham and watermelon, for example – but there are also some dedicated to sides, seasoning and drinks. Those range from spoonbread, salt and bourbon to sorghum and poke sallet, a long-time staple in Appalachia and the South that can also be poisonous if not prepared correctly.
Interestingly, far Western Kentucky has a festival dedicated to bananas. That one recognizes a time in the late 1800s when Fulton was the only stop on the train route between New Orleans and Chicago that had an ice house. At one point, it was estimated that more than 70 percent of the bananas consumed in America went through the city.
The festival took off several decades ago when it was highlighted on national television, and it has since routinely featured a one-ton banana pudding that organizers call the world’s largest.
Large food items, in fact, are not an uncommon sight at these events. Over the years, festival organizers have cooked up a two-ton biscuit; built a skillet large enough to fry hundreds of chicken quarters at a time; and found a way to bake 10-foot wide pizzas, cookies and apple pie.
If agricultural products are understandably the most popular items for fall-time festivals, they aren’t the only ones. Hazard has the Black Gold Festival, to commemorate the role coal has played in Kentucky, while nearby Lee County has the Wooly Worm Festival, which is perfect for those who believe the worms can predict the upcoming winter. Supposedly, each of the worm’s 13 segments corresponds to each week of that season, with light brown meaning a mild week and black signifying cold.
Kentuckians have been getting together for food and fun for quite some time. Our oldest festival – Court Days in Mt. Sterling – has been around since 1794, just two years after the commonwealth became the country’s 15th state. Court Days earned its name because that was the time each year a traveling judge would hold court. Those living nearby used this event to sell goods and visit town, and the event grew from there.
If you decide to take in one of the state’s many festivals, consider driving along at least one of the 20 roads that make up the Scenic Byway System, especially when the leaves begin to take on their fall colors.
Six of these roads have national designations, including Woodlands Trace, a 30-mile stretch that cuts through the Land Between the Lakes; the Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway in the more central part of the state, which features sites tied to our 16th President and the bourbon industry; and the Country Music Highway in Eastern Kentucky, which winds past the early homes of such stars as the Judds, Loretta Lynn and Ricky Skaggs.
All of these examples are just a few of the hundreds of events that can be found year-round across Kentucky. If you would like to know more, I encourage you to go online at www.kentuckytourism.com, a state-run website that does a wonderful job of bringing these events together. With one weekend of September already behind us, time is already starting to draw short for fall activities.
As always, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about issues involving state government. You can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov. To leave a message for me or for any legislator, meanwhile, call toll-free at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.