The John Blue Cotton Festival is not new. In fact, the 34th festival is set for Oct. 14 and 15 in Laurinburg. Jim Blue has been the chairman of this festival for 31 years. He’s a descendant of John Blue, whose home is a big part of the event. After being rained out by Hurricane Matthew last year, Blue is excited for the festival’s return. “We have hayrides, clogging exhibitors (and) many different kinds of demonstrations, including a woodwright who builds amazing things without using modern tools,” Blue said. “We will also have a chainsaw carver there.”
It is a weekend of good old-fashioned fun that includes things like craft vendors, demonstrators, antique engines, a mule pull, a cotton gin, antique cars and more. Blue said, “We have contests and all kinds of homemade crafts and foods, too.” He added that families can look forward to pony rides and a mini train that runs on a half-mile track.
The activities provide plenty of reason to attend, but Blue said the John Blue house is the icing on the cake. The home will be open for tours and is furnished in period (circa 1890).
“If you stand and look at it from the right angle, you can see the house is designed after a steamboat,” Blue said. According to Jim, John Blue had family in Mississippi. “When he visited his family he fell in love with steamboats, and that inspired this home’s design. You can see where the water wheels would be, and you can see that it looks very similar to a steamboat.”
Over the years other buildings have been added to the festival, including a restored sawmill that dates back to 1920.
Reaching back to simpler times, children can look forward to games like marbles, walking on stilts and balance beams, playing hopscotch and checkers, blowing bubbles, face-painting and more.
All the standard fair food will be on hand, including funnel cake, fried apples, pulled-pork barbecue and Hawaiian ice. One of the vendors Blue is most excited about, though, is one that sells collard sandwiches. “It involves two pieces of flat cornbread topped with fatback and collards and dressed with your choice of vinegar, pepper relish or whatever you fancy,” Blue said. “If you’ve never had one, I think you should try them.”
The festival sits on about 10 acres, which allows plenty of room for attendees to explore the grounds and take in the stage, which hosts a variety of performers throughout the weekend. There will also be musicians roaming the grounds playing different instruments like banjos and guitars “and maybe stopping under a tree to sing a tune or coming to a crowd to take a request,” Blue said.
He added that Sunday morning, although the festivities don’t start until 10 a.m., those interested in attending can come to an outdoor church service. “It lasts about 30 or 40 minutes,” he said. “There are a choir and a sermon under the pecan trees, and it starts at 9 a.m. This is something we originally started for the volunteers and vendors. Then people from the community started joining us. Everyone is welcome.”
Pulling everything off usually involves about 220 volunteers, and on a good weekend, Blue noted, the festival draws 9,000 to 10,000 attendees. The gates open at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Find out more at www.johnbluefestival.com.
PHOTO: The John Blue House