How the festival came to be

Reminiscences of the founders April 16, 2004

 

Reprinted by permission from

The Weekly Observer

Hemingway, SC

 

By DAVID L. GREEN

HEMINGWAY - Four of the five Barbecue-Shag Festival founders met Friday night, April 16 at this year's festival and began reminiscing about the origins and the first years of the fest.

It all began with a conversation over a meal at the Coachman Restaurant when the late Elsie Hill, president of the Merchants' Association, commented to Snookie Lee, Ray McAlister, Sissie McAlister and Bubber Snow that a barbecue festival would be good for Hemingway business. Then it was proposed that it ought to also include shagging, as the dance had just been declared the state dance by the state legislature at the urging of Bubber Snow.

They quickly organized to put on the first festival, which was held downtown in Hemingway in 1988. Elsie Hill was in charge of the money. Sissie McAlister raised funds for the startup by selling raffle tickets, with prizes donated by Wellman Industries and Tupperware. Also an auction was held to auction off a hog. It went for $100 and was purchased by Isla Mae Dantzler. Snookie Lee handled the cookoff; Ray McAlister did the advertizing and Bubber Snow brought in the bands.

 

Ray McAlister, Snookie Lee, John (Bubber) Snow, Carolyn (Sissie) McAlister

Their bands for that first festival were Billy Scott and the Prophets, and the Morrisville Brass Band. "The first festival was really, really raw," said Snow. "It snowed, sleeted and rained all in one weekend, and it was cold!

There were twenty entrants in the first cookoff. One man, who shall remain unnamed, came from Georgetown. When he was asked where his cooker was, he said it was hooked to the back of his pickup. No trailer was to be found. "Well I'll be darned! It must be somewhere between here and Georgetown," he said. George Sutton rounded up a wood cooker for him to use and he entered anyway. Going to all the grocery stores, he bought all the charcoal he could find.

"I'm not much of a cook," he said, "But I have two good assistant cooks with me." - referring to the two women friends he had brought along. But about 3 AM the charcoal ran out and the half cooked hog was abandoned. When the judges arrived in the morning, the man had gone, so his hog was never judged. He later opened a restaurant in Georgetown.

For the second year, realizing that downtown was not a workable place, they moved the festival to the village park, where it is still held today. The second year a large tent was obtained and all the dancing and much of the rest of the activities were done inside the tent. In the second year the festival began to be a hit. The late Wesley and Loretta Kennedy organized "The Hoggette Revue" featuring the staff of Anderson State Bank. They arrived with a police escort and siren serenade, in Badger Bazon's motor home, "straight from Detroit" to the wild cheers of the crowd.

Another hit was the parachuting of Woody McKay, former Representative from Florence, into the ball field, where he was presented with a barbecue sandwich. A greased pole climbing contest and a greased pig catching contest were held. Carroll Eaddy won the hog calling contest. A Hoggette wedding was held at the high school gym.

In the third year the festival really took off. Snookie and Joe Lee had pursuaded the town to build a cooking shed, and a long standing rivalry between Hemingway and Johnsonville began to take shape in the cookoffs. Santee Cooper made a movie of the festival, and became a major sponsor. Jo Jo Putman, a professional shagger came to give demonstrations. In later years carnival rides were added.

At first the farmers insisted on having the festival early so it would not interfere with tobacco planting, but gradually it has been moved back in the spring so better weather could be anticipated. The early festivals were mostly from money put up by Phillip Morris and R. J. Reynolds. The cookoff has grown from the original 20 entrants to 32 this year, with more anticipated next year. The lost cooker mishap of the first year was never repeated, but, over the years, several hogs have caught fire, and a couple have been dropped in the dirt when turning.

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