Festival has record-breaking Saturday

Published 8:51 pm Monday, October 8, 2012

Avery and Evan Seeley enjoy their ride at Peanut Fest on Saturday. The festival likely broke a record on Saturday, organizers said, though official numbers aren’t yet tabulated.

Despite a rainy Sunday, the 35th annual Suffolk Peanut Festival was a success, according to the festival’s leader.

“We really, truly had a great festival,” said Lisa Key, director of Suffolk Festivals Inc., which puts on the Peanut Festival. “All our events went off as planned, and we had a blast.”

Though the official numbers aren’t yet in, Key is confident Saturday was a record-breaking day for the festival. Thursday and Friday also turned out well, she said.

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“We took a hit with Sunday being rainy,” she said. “But we’re hoping that because we had three previous good days, it will all balance out.”

The festival remained open despite Sunday’s weather, and headlining entertainer Kellie Pickler took the stage as planned to cap off the festival. A fellow “American Idol” contestant from a different season, Casey Abrams, performed Saturday night.

“The entertainment, Casey Abrams and Kellie Pickler, they were great,” Key said.

Besides the official entertainment, there was plenty going on throughout the festival grounds to make visitors smile.

From midway rides, games and food to a petting zoo, vendor booths and an activities tent, the steady stream of people that poured in to the festival was kept busy from one end to the other.

But perhaps the most entertaining events of all were the contests.

The World’s Only Peanut Butter Sculpture Contest featured 15 sculptors, armed only with knives and plastic gloves, working to create something meaningful out of a block of peanut butter.

“It’s very sticky,” declared Michaela Jones, the Peanut Festival Queen, who chose to portray the demolition derby with her sculpture. “This is insane.”

Jones and the nine members of her court — some of whom had just arrived at the festival after sitting for the SAT exam — competed, along with Mayor Linda T. Johnson, festival chairman Joe Patterson, and three walk-on competitors.

“This is undoubtedly the worst part of being the mayor,” Johnson said during the competition. “I wanted to be the judge.”

In the end, it was one of the walk-on competitors, King’s Fork Middle School art teacher Sandee Darden, who took first place with her portrayal of the festival theme, “Still Nutty After All These Years.”

Laura Smith, a member of the queen’s court, took second place with her peanut-butter rendition of a piano, and Janet Ehmer, another court member, won third place for her depiction of Mr. Peanut.

Despite the difficulty of sculpting peanut butter, contestants in the Jalapeño Eating Contest arguably suffered more.

“I’m in a competitive spirit,” said Charlie Sutton, who signed up for the second of three contests. “I like to eat a lot of hot things anyway. I make my food spicier than the rest of my family.”

But his hubris diminished somewhat upon facing the challenge.

“I didn’t realize some of these peppers were going to be so big,” he said, staring down at the plate.

Another competitor, Frank Eak, declared ahead of time that he is “pretty good at eating” hot peppers. But they were too much for him, he said afterward.

“It wasn’t too hot, I just couldn’t chew fast enough,” he said.