Potato Festival rolls on: 20,000 attend event's second day

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Attendees of this weekend's N.C. Potato Festival walk along Water Street, Saturday afternoon. An estimated 20,000 people attended the second day of the festival, a city official said Saturday evening. To see a slideshow of this weekend's festival, visit dailyadvance.com.

Potato Fest Sat
Potato fest Sat
Potato Fest Sat.
Potato Fest Sat
Potato Fest Sat

By William F. West
Staff Writer

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The second day of this year’s N.C. Potato Festival drew an estimated 20,000 people to Elizabeth City’s downtown and waterfront, a city official said Saturday. 

Cool temperatures prevailed for much of the day, as festival-goers snacked on barbecue and other vendor food offerings, rode the amusement rides, checked out the musical entertainment or simply strolled along Water and Main streets taking in the sights.

There was no drama in Saturday’s annual National Potato Peeling Contest: John Lee, a Pasquotank County High School art teacher, won the individual peeling contest for the second year in a row, while in the team category, Piedmont Natural Gas won for the third straight year.

The only drama of the day was whether the weather — perfect on the festival’s opening night Friday — would hold up again on Saturday. It nearly did.

About 6:18 p.m., the day’s first downpour sent festival-goers scurrying into any available space under the vendor tents lining Road and Main streets. Within 10 minutes, however, the rain was gone and the crowds were moving again. A second downpour didn’t arrive until just before 8 p.m. It, too, lasted only about 10 minutes.  

Saturday morning marked the first time Camden resident Caitie Hennessy and her 2-year-old daughter, Hazel, had attended the festival.

"We actually wanted to see the Little Miss Tater Tot Pageant," Hennessy said when asked why they attended. "It sounded hilarious."

Though they ended up missing the morning event, won by 3-year-old Kenzie Hayden in the age 3-5 category, and 6-year-old Isabel Benton in the age 6-8 category, Hennessy and her daughter were enjoying themselves in the festival’s amusement and games area on Water Street.

"There's just a lot to do. There's a lot going on," Hennessy said.

Not far away, the Coast Guard Cutter Flying Fish was moored at Waterfront Park.

Brandi and Andrew Dornfried, both of Camden, took their 2-year-old son, Ulrich, aboard for a tour.

"He loves boats and water," Brandi said, referring to Ulrich.

Andrew said his family really enjoys the Potato Festival.

"You get to come out and you get to see everybody,” he said. “You've also got local vendors that are having sales. You've got rides for kids. It's family friendly."

At the corner of Main and Poindexter streets, Elizabeth City resident Mary Lou Reue was watching the potato-peeling contest.

"It is good hometown fun," Reue said of the festival. "You can bring a family out. It's very inexpensive."

She also thinks the festival symbolizes what northeastern North Carolina is all about.

"We have a lot of farmers out here, so I think it's a great way to show our support," she said.

Reue watched as Lee, of the Pasquotank Peelers team, repeat as the individual potato-peeling champion. Lee peeled 4.76 pounds in five minutes, besting Jim Weaver of the Piedmont Natural Gas team, who peeled 4.03 pounds, and Steve Clark, of the Christ Episcopal Church team, who peeled 3.90 pounds.

In the team category, Piedmont Natural Gas peeled 14.10 pounds in five minutes to claim its third straight title, while Christ Episcopal Church finished second by peeling 11.94 pounds, and the Eye of the Tater team finished third by peeling 10.96 pounds.

Lee shared the secret to his success: "Strong fingers and wrists," he said. His left hand was covered with a glove, although it was cutoff so he could keeping using his fingers.

Lee said the festival means a lot to Elizabeth City and the surrounding community.

"It's just a great, wholesome way to have some fun," he said.

Others taking in the festival later in the day Saturday were retirees Bill and Donna Watson of Elizabeth City. Both are regular attendees of the festival.

Asked why they keep coming back, Donna said they like the homemade items.

"Not something you'll find at Walmart," Bill chipped in with a chuckle. “Also, we usually see a lot of friends here."

The couple were eyeing metal yard art being offered for sale by Stan Moye, of Covington, Virginia.

"We've got all kinds of things that spin," Moye said.

Moye is a first-time vendor at the Potato Festival. He’s previously sold his yard art at the N.C. Azalea Festival in Wilmington and MumFest in New Bern.

“We do so well down at the beach. We get all the wind. It drives all of our stuff wild and crazy, so we wanted to try it and see if we could do well down here," he said.

Moye said he wasn't worried about the prospect of rain because his items can stay outside.

"But we could use some more traffic, that's for sure," Moye said.

His booth was stationed on a part of Main Street where the crowd had thinned out by Saturday afternoon.

On Water Street, Kim Robinson was busy selling products produced by California-based clothing designer LuLaRoe.

A teacher at Grandy Primary School in Camden County, Robinson sells LuLaRoe products out of her home.

She said business was a little slow Friday evening but had picked up on Saturday.

She also had a strategy in case of rain: "We scoot everything to the center of the tent."

The festival’s third and final day gets underway today at 10 a.m. The festival officially closes at 6 p.m.