BEAST FEST: Bladenboro festival draws thousands to downtown streets – Elizabethtown Bladen Journal

BLADENBORO — The fabled Beast of Bladenboro may have been the center of attention, but the collard sandwich proved to be the feast of Bladenboro during the return of the Beast Fest on Saturday.
The line of people waiting to buy one of the sandwiches or a bowl of chicken bog stretched back roughly the distance of a basketball court at the Lumbee Homemade Ice Cream tent set up in the center of town.
“There’s nothing not to like,” 46-year-old Christie Bullard said of the collard sandwich. She had two of them, including one for husband Heath Bullard, wrapped in aluminum foil.
“If you’re a Southerner, a good collard sandwich and a piece of cornbread is hard to beat,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “It’s not Beast Fest if you don’t eat a collard sandwich.”
They would secure a seat on a bench in front of Lolli’s On Main along Main Street where they ate what has become a signature food draw at the event.
“Off the chain,” remarked Heath Bullard, 48, before taking another bite of the crispy golden brown cornbread and collard greens sandwich.
Following a year-long absence due to COVID-19 concerns, the 14th incarnation of Boost the ’Boro’s Beast Fest drew thousands of festival-goers to the downtown district.
Bladenboro, which suffered greatly over the last five years with destruction and flooding from Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence, returned to life during Saturday’s second and final day of the festival. Residents and out-of-town visitors alike strolled through the area on a beautiful late October day gawking at the lineups of classic cars and multitude of arts and crafts merchandise on display.
There were amusement rides for the children, live entertainment from the stage and plenty of food available from mobile food trucks and the like.
The featured entertainment — Gary Lowder & Smokin’ Hot, a soulful outfit out of Myrtle Beach — hit the festival stage Saturday night.
“It’s family oriented. You get to spend time with your family,” 48-year-old Anthony Meares said, after getting a family photo with a near-Godzilla-sized Smokey Bear. “You get to see people you haven’t seen in a long time.”
“And the collard sandwich,” Brooke, his wife, interjected.
“Collard sandwich!” he repeated with a grin.
“We come every year,” said Brooke Meares, who is 30.
Four-year-old Tinley accompanied the family from Clarkton.
Glenn Hunt, 68, of Pembroke, headed up the 15-member team working the Lumbee ice cream tent. He said he had no idea how many of the collard sandwiches he would sell on Saturday, adding, “I don’t want to tell no lie.”
On site, the greens were boiled in huge pots and the cornbread was fried. Hunt figured he had brought 118 gallons of greens and 150 pounds of cornbread from Pembroke.
It has been written that the collard sandwich was created by members of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.
Here, at Hunt’s stand, the sandwiches went for $6 apiece.
A couple of other vendors, including the Rene’s Collard Sandwich stand right next door, sold the sandwiches. The Wing Parade featured collard wraps, a variation on the sandwich with the greens filling the inside of an egg roll shell with either turkey or fatback.
“That’s one of our biggest sellers,” said 62-year-old Jeffrey Williamson of Nakina, who was turning smoked jumbo turkey legs on a grill.
Why is the collard green fare so popular at this street fair?
Not even Popeye could get enough kids to eat their spinach.
“Well, I reckon it’s the flavor of it,” Hunt said. “Greens are good for you. Sometimes you put a little bit of sugar in to take the bitter taste out of them. Flavors it up a little bit.”
The official Beast Fest mascot made the rounds. Unlike the colorful Disney characters at Walt Disney World, this gentle black beast of an icon spoke … with a thick southern accent.
Festival director Charles Ray Peterson, who also serves on the Bladen County Board of Commissioners, said the festival is important to the town because “it brings people together. It brings the community together.”
Peterson, 68, is a Bladenboro native who said he loves his town.
“We raise money that goes right back into the town. Wherever there’s a need,” he said after hopping out of a golf cart on Main Street. “It’s important we raise money, and the money goes back into the community.”
Peterson said, “It’s already bigger than it was in the past. That whole parking lot is full of vendors. COVID hit us last year, and we didn’t have it. But there’s several thousand people here now.”
That was right after noon.
The line was still long in front of the Lumbee Homemade Ice Cream stand, where collard greens and fried cornbread were ringing up sales.
“This is the first time I’m here,” Lee McKoy, 63, of Dublin, said between sips of a Sun Drop soft drink. “I heard so much about it. I love old cars. Guess what I just ate? A collard sandwich. They’re known for their collard sandwich.”
This story authored by Michael Futch of the Bladen Journal. Contact him at 910-670-1842 or [email protected]
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