Sep. 5—Someone ought to tell nature that sweet potatoes don't mind a little rain. Through two days of turbulent weekend weather, it rained, it drizzled, and at times it even poured. But the threat of ugly skies on both days of this year's Sweet Tater Festival just wasn't enough to put tater treasure hunters off the earthy scent of the veggie that drew them out to Smith Lake Park for the event's 26th annual installment.
"It rained all day long yesterday — well, off and on," said Karen Bates, manning the Bonnie Rae's Bake Shoppe food truck that made the trip from Oxford for its second-ever stint at the annual affair. "But really, we stayed pretty busy — so it wasn't a complete washout."
Maybe that's because guests were determined to make the most of their long holiday weekend, whatever the weather threw at them. Bates, an Altoona resident, said it probably helped that the grey skies never threatened anything truly nasty — just the minor inconvenience of a good dousing.
"I think because it was just rain — no thunder, no lightning, no wind, no storms — that everybody just kind of dealt with it," she said. "It wouldn't stop us from coming back next year."
Musician Adam Guthrie played to a mostly-empty open space where audiences usually pitch their blankets and lawn chairs early Monday, as the intermittent drizzle kept crowds from materializing until well toward the noon hour. and though the crowds didn't show up with the same density that accompanies sunnier times, they did eventually show — even if it took a while.
"It was a little busier yesterday," said Ernest Nichols, manning a vendor booth near the stage laid out with bags of Kress Farms sweet potatoes ready to sell. "It wasn't a real big crowd, but for the kind of day it was, it was okay. Yesterday we sold 21 bags — but we haven't sold any yet today."
An hour later, though, the potatoes had started to move, as people braved the looming clouds to make their annual tater pilgrimage. At the nearby Kress Farms vendor tent, Kerry Kress said he had no complaints with the numbers his family's locally-grown produce was doing.
"It's been a little bit slow," said Kress, juggling a growing line of walk-up customers with money in hand. "But considering it rained off and on all day yesterday, it really hasn't been too bad."
Over at the antique car show, there were plenty of vacant parkings spaces where vintage vehicles no doubt would've crowded the scene if the forecast had been friendlier. "My brother was gonna drive down, but he didn't have any wipers," joked auto enthusiast Elton Colwell, who drove his own resto-modded 1952 Chevy truck down from Athens. "Mine's got delay wipers on it — like new cars do."
Nature may have been in a dour mood, but it just goes to show you can't keep a determined sweet tooth from springing at the annual chance to sample a taste of sweet potato ice cream — something festival first-timer Selina Ellis said she didn't regret for a second. "We've come to some of the other festivals, but we never knew about the sweet potatoes," said the Huntsville resident, in between licks on a 'tater-flavored cone. "It's pretty good — you should get one!"