I have to admit that this festival was not my first choice. Heck, it wasn't even my second. I had originally scheduled the Bagel Festival in Mattoon, IL, but decided at the last minute not to repeat this festival from last year. Instead I found a Sunflower Festival to attend. I arrived in town only to see a banner welcoming me to the festival with the dates July 24 & 25. Seeing as though it was the 17th, I quickly got on my android phone and crazily searched for another replacement. I found this county fair just across the Mississippi River. There is little more that captures All-American beauty than along the muddy banks of the Mississippi. Pictured is my beautiful view crossing the Champ Clark Bridge. Sometimes it is the journey...
Unfortunately, I arrived at the festival and there was nobody there. Apparently the action began at 5 and I arrived at 2:30. Some food stands were barely open, and I had the first order of these sweet potato fries. They were sliced too thin and cooked at a low heat which made them very greasy. There was no salt added, nor brown sugar, nor butter. Any or all of which would have greatly improved this travesty.
The second I walked into the festival, the workers were telling me about the chicken and noodles. they regaled me with stories of this dish's longevity at this fair, and how the noodles were homemade. They made it seem like little fairies came out at dawn and sang as they magically created this dish for the nourishment of Gods. I was excited. Then this came out. The first bite actually tasted really good, but the second revealed the lack of salt and any character. I would have been happy with this on a cold winter day, but on a steaming hot summer day, this stick to your ribs meal was just ok.
There was also a BBQ competition at the fair. There were only three competitors and they were good company as I waited for the fair to begin. They offered a very generous tasting of their brisket, and I walked away full. The bottom 2 slabs placed 3rd, the saucy meat on the left was 2nd and the smaller pieces on the right were the winners. The judges definitely got the result right. In fact, the
I came across this monument celebrating the progress of Pike County's Fair from 1946-1976. Yet, a monument to progress over the last 34 years was nowhere to be found. I'm not sure how much progress this signifies, but the next picture displays today's Pike County Fair...
Oh Yes...The Lawn Mower Derby. I'm not sure I have the words. Some would ask why lawn mowers? Or, why a derby of lawn mowers? Or, why are people watching a lawn mower derby? Truthfully, I can't answer any of them. All I know is that it was entertaining for about 5 minutes, and the stands were packed.
Video of the Week: You can judge the Lawn Mower Derby for yourself. Witness the drama and competition of these athletes as they "race" through the mud with reckless abandon. Notice the steely determination, the cool concentration and the "blazing speed" of the lawn mower demolition derby!
Ok, so this festival wasn't my first choice and I showed up about 3 hours too early. I know all too well to not assume anything on the festival circuit, and it was a rookie mistake to think there was a festival preceding the lawn mower derby. I had heard of so many County Fair stories of crazy food concoctions, but they were not to be found here. Hopefully someday I can find some sponsors or advertisers which would help finance getting to some further away festivals. (Please email for opportunities)
Although there was also a full-sized car version demolition derby, the lawn mowers stole the show. Although the concept may sound humorous, the competitors really take it seriously (I mean they even had lawnmower rules). But I know my reader(s) are probably asking, "But how do I go about getting a lawn mower derby ready?" Well, Fatboy Dan has an instructional how-to video just for you. Or if you just want to win, then this jet engine powered lawnmower may be for you. It may also be one of the most dangerous, head scratching and crazy things I've seen in a while. If all of this seems too violent, then you can become a card carrying member of the US Lawn Mower Racing Association and simply go fast.
Somewhere out there the bagel Gods are laughing. I decided late Friday night to change my schedule. I attended that festival last year, and who among you would want to wake up at 6 am and drive 2 1/2 hours for some thawed out Lenders Bagels? It's really something you only do once. To be honest, the Bagel festival did have a pretty solid parade and the festival did provide my profile picture (A Fudge Puppy) for the FFF Facebook site. Check out the Bagel Festival Story here.
I will admit I was pretty frustrated having driven 2 hours to a festival that didn't take place until next week, but there is something very calming about driving along the Mississippi. Even in the 100 degree heat and humidity of the Mid-West, I managed to have a good time at a festival that hadn't even begun. I realized how many people and how much effort goes into putting on these festivals, in fact they even had a guy that just wet down the derby mud. Well, at least I know I won't get lost on the way to next week's festival.