When Gene and Brenda Gabbert started the Jay Peanut festival 26 years ago, their primary motivation was not necessarily to celebrate the versatile legume.
“When she was alive, we toured the festivals all the time,” Brenda Gabbert said. “We used to take her to Castleberry, Ala., for the Strawberry Festival and the Blueberry Festival in Brewton, Ala. She really enjoyed them.”
The Peanut Festival is set for Oct. 3 and 4 at the Gabbert Farm on Pine Level Church Road in Jay. The festival is still run by Brenda and Gene Gabbert.
In a way, the festival was Melissa’s idea.“She said, ‘Mother when I get better, I want us to have something like that. I want us to do something for the community,” Gabbert said. “She also said, ‘If I die, I hope everybody remembers I was here.’”The first festival came in 1990 just a few months after Melissa passed away.
“It was hard,” Gabbert said. “We thought, ‘Well, why not.’ It sort of kept us sane.”
The festival has certainly grown over the years.“The first year, we only had it one day. And then people asked if we could have it two days because some folks had to work,” she said. “If I remember right, that was the only time we had a one-day show. We had a good crowd, but nothing like it is now.”That first year, Gabbert estimates there were 30 to 40 vendor booths, compared to 230 booths spaces now.
Almost all of those were spoken for as of early September for this year’s festival.Gabbert doesn’t remember anyone bothering to estimate attendance that first year. The second year, the best guess was 12,000. It’s hard to say exactly how many people attend every year because there is no gate or tickets for the free event. Nowadays, 70,000 or more are believed to visit the annual event.Many elements of the festival have remained the same over the years, including one of the favorite events for children.
“We’ve had the pig chase since the beginning,” Gabbert said. “They only have to touch the pig for so many seconds for them to be the winner. We don’t grease them anymore, but we used to. It gets the kids all messed up and the pigs aren’t crazy about it, either.”
The pig chase is open to children 12 and younger.
“The Jay Volunteer Fire Department does all the boiled peanuts. We let them do that to earn money for equipment,” she said. “They don’t always get as much money as they need or want from other sources. As a matter of fact, they bought their first defribulator from money earned at the festival. That was years ago.”
Holland Farms brings green peanuts – the kind used to make boiled peanuts – and roasted peanuts to sell at the festival.
There will be live entertainment both days, with gospel music on Sunday and a non-denominational church service at 9 a.m.
The festival also includes children’s carnival rides, plus a a 5K run and a Pet Dress Up Parade and Contest on Sunday.
The property also includes two museums – a farming museum and replica of a 1940s John Deere dealership – as well as a fleet of restored classic tractors.
The entire festival is paid for by fees paid by vendors — $25 for crafts and other non-food booths and $150 for food vendors who need electricity.
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