In spite of rain midway through the event, this year’s Strawberry Festival is projected to be the biggest one yet. (W.C. Mann for The Tribune)
CULLMAN – Huge crowds defied threatening weather Saturday to turn out for what will likely be Cullman’s largest ever Strawberry Festival. More crafters, more produce from farmers, an entertainment district extending farther up First Avenue through the Warehouse District, an entertainment schedule extending into the evening (featuring Eve6!), the Grill Master competition sponsored by The Link of Cullman County, and the relocation of “Art in the Park” all combined to make the event a record-setter for Cullman Parks and Recreation (CP&R).
In the early afternoon, CP&R Marketing Director Waid Harbison told The Tribune, “It’s going fantastic . . . This has been the biggest crowd, I think, we’ve ever seen before lunchtime. I mean, you’re seeing it right now, but definitely a record-breaking crowd. I think a lot of people are trying to come out before the rain, but still, this is way more people that we’ve seen, normally. It doesn’t (usually) really start to super pick up with a huge crowd till about 10 or 11, but by about 9 this morning, we were just wide open with a crowd like you see right now. So it’s been just a steady stream all day long. A lot of people from all over the place. We’ve already sold over 2,000 gallons of strawberries over at the farmers’ market, which is actually–believe it or not–better than last year, (when) we did about 1,300.”
According to Harbison, in the early afternoon farmers were still coming in with fresh loads of strawberries to replenish the fast-selling stocks at the Festhalle. Parking patterns (parking lots and street parking remained nearly full for much of the morning and early afternoon) and sales numbers led CP&R to estimate that the event would draw around 15,000 visitors by the end of the day.
About an hour later, The Tribune met with CP&R Director Nathan Anderson, who adjusted the strawberry count up to 2,500 gallons sold.
“Last year, we had a great year,” he said, “and we only sold 1,300 gallons. So we are way ahead of the game from last year.”
When speaking with Anderson, the first rumble of thunder was heard. Very quickly an overcast but dry day turned very wet. The music stage shut down and vendors pulled in merchandise as visitors ran for whatever cover they could find. Rain poured down hard and was blown under shelters and umbrellas by steady winds.
After the storm passed, the crowd began to thin out, and several vendors whose displays had been drenched packed up to leave. The majority, though, just shook it off and got back to business. The stage reopened for musicians to perform, and crowds returned in the evening to see Eve6 take the stage.
“Our staff is doing an awesome job today,” said Harbison. “We’ve got one of the best staffs of any park and rec department, I think, in the country, and that’s why we’re one of the best park and rec departments in the country. But our staff got here early this morning to set up the stage. They’ve been here late all week getting everything set up. But these guys are dedicated; they’ve been here all day long, they’re doing a fantastic job with every area of the festival. I want to brag on them and say they’re doing a fantastic job. We’re proud of everything that they’re doing.
“It’s just a great community event. We have so many people from here, from out of town; it’s a great way to showcase (sic) Cullman. A lot of people (sic) from the state track meet (at Cullman High School) are coming over, as well. So it’s just a great weekend to showcase (sic) everything that Cullman has to offer.”
Anderson added, “We have a great event planning team. They’ve done a great job. We appreciate all the vendors and the farmers for partnering with us, and also The Link for the Grill Masters competition partnering with us. It’s been a great event!”
The 2018 Strawberry Festival Grill Master Champion team was the Cullman Rotary Club.
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