I really love good small town festivals, and my visit to the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburgh, Tennessee was one of the best I can remember. Apparently, when the Tennessee Department of Transportation built a bypass around South Pittsburgh, downtown really took a hit. Town leaders gathered to try and think of a way to bring business back to town. Since they are home to Lodge Cast Iron, they decided to try and stage a cornbread festival. After all, who doesn't like cornbread? The first year they brought out their card tables and folding chairs and hoped for 500 people to show up. An hour after the gates opened there were 5,000 people there... and they were out of cornbread. In the 21 years since, they've learned a lot about throwing a festival, and it really showed.
I should have arrived earlier, because traffic was a bit crazy, but once I got into town they had ample parking and plenty of people to guide you to it. The entire main street through town is closed off, and the festival runs right through the middle. There were plenty of food vendors serving anything from cornbread and pinto beans to giant turkey legs to funnel cakes.
Since it was the Cornbread Festival, I had to try some cornbread. I got in line for Cornbread Alley, where for a $5 donation to the charities represented there, I got 9 samples of different kinds of cornbread. Two of them were hush puppies, 8 of them were savory and there was one sweet cornbread with white chocolate and cranberries. Some of them were fresh out of the oven and others had obviously been made the day before (you can always tell fresh cornbread). All were good though, and it was fun to taste the different kinds that people had concocted.
From there, I headed over to the Lodge Cast Iron foundry. This is a massive production plant which forges, molds, cleans, polishes, seasons and packages Lodge Cast Iron products. It is quite a process, and apparently the foundry is only open to the public during the Cornbread Festival. The tour was self-guided, but there were employees at every turn to answer questions or just talk about quality cast iron products. I really love cooking with cast iron, and I prefer Lodge products, so it was great to see it where and how it is produced. Lodge Cast Iron truly is one of the last great American-made products, and it was awesome to visit and see the process.
Next door, they have a great factory store which is full of both regular Lodge products, and factory seconds. It is a good thing I don't have a lot of room left in my van, or I would have walked out of there with my arms full of cast iron.
Returning to the festival, I caught a few good music acts, including the headliner Exile. While I'm not the biggest Exile fan, I like a lot of the music they have written for other bands like Alabama. It was cool to hear them do a medley of the songs they have written for other artists. It was also nice to pull up a seat on the grass and listen to the show from ground level.
After they finished playing, I couldn't leave without getting a deliciously bad-for-me funnel cake, one of my real weaknesses. I ate the whole thing while wandering around the carnival side of the festival. As a photographer, I love taking photos of a carnival. The lights and the colors are just so cool. When I was done with my photos though, it was time to go.
South Pittsburgh was a wonderful host and put on a fantastic festival. It was also great to kick off the festival season with such a good one. I'm not used to being off during the summertime and I am looking forward to festivals for the next few months until state and county fairs begin. Look for a lot more photos to come this summer as I continue my travels around the country. But for now, enjoy a few photos from the National Cornbread Festival. Keep an eye out for the local festivals in your area, they are always good to help you feel like you're a kid again.