Spring Chicken Festival to resume in 2021 — maybe virtually

Posted 3/2/21

SILER CITY — The Spring Chicken Festival is coming back, but this year’s iteration won’t look like 2019’s.

Two years ago, the town launched its “first annual” Spring Chicken Festival …

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Spring Chicken Festival to resume in 2021 — maybe virtually

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SILER CITY — The Spring Chicken Festival is coming back, but this year’s iteration won’t look like 2019’s.

Two years ago, the town launched its “first annual” Spring Chicken Festival in partnership with Mountaire, the event’s primary sponsor. It rehashed a bygone tradition — the yearly chicken festival which had died almost 20 years earlier when Siler City’s poultry industry began its collapse.

After Mountaire began operations in 2019 at the old Townsend facility, the town revived its fallen festival with resounding success: 5,000 people flooded downtown’s streets to enjoy the food trucks and entertainment and to peruse the many vendors featuring arts and crafts, gift items and more. Other attractions included a classic car show and a beer garden.

Town staff anticipated a yet grander event for 2020 — expanding the one-day event into a three-day palooza, scheduled April 30-May 2.

But then came COVID.

Big plans were derailed overnight. The festival would have featured a Ferris wheel, fair rides, a rock wall, rows of food vendors and live music groups. The Embers, featuring Craig Woolard — a feel-good music group listed in the South Carolina Beach Music Hall of Fame — were scheduled to headline the performances.

But statewide coronavirus restrictions prohibited any sort of in-person event, let alone a mass gathering such as the Spring Chicken Festival.

After 2020’s festival was canceled, town department leaders — notably Parks and Recreation Director Jack Clelland — and the Siler City board of commissioners hoped to make up for the lost year with a no-holds-barred “third annual” Spring Chicken Festival in 2021 (though it would more technically be the second biennial festival.)

Well, 2021 has arrived, and the pandemic is still here. So what can you expect of this year’s festival?

Probably a virtual event.

In the board of commissioners’ regular meeting on Monday, Clelland suggested the commissioners consider a remote festival to avoid suspending the tradition another year.

“To adhere to NCDHHS COVID-19 guidelines, mass-gathering mandates, and to avoid possible cancelation again this year,” he wrote in a memorandum included in the board’s agenda, “Parks and Recreation staff has explored the opportunity to offer the 2021 festival as a virtual event.”

The program — scheduled for May 1 — would include many of the same features planned for the live festival: musical performances, highlights of downtown Siler City and other entertainment. Instead of three days worth of activity, the program would last about three hours.

“Being able to offer something to the community is very important to us,” Clelland told the News + Record, “being able to engage and to get some eyes on Siler City.”

A virtual event would fall short of ideal, he said, but might offer some unique advantages over in-person gatherings.

“Perhaps we can bring some people in who wouldn’t be able to attend in person,” Clelland said. “So maybe we reach out further in the state or across state lines and some people learn some more about Siler City and might visit us next year for the live event.”

Recording the event in advance would also permit Siler City residents and any interested attendees from around the world to view the program at their leisure, whenever they want.

“It would be something that would be archived on our website, or saved so that people can revisit at another time,” Clelland said. “So maybe you couldn’t catch it that Saturday, but maybe that Sunday you and your family could sit down and watch it or go back and find your favorite parts of it.”

Clelland was careful to emphasize, though, that a virtual event has not yet been approved. That decision falls to the town’s board of commissioners who could not arrive at a consensus in Monday’s meeting.

“I’m not trying to be critical about what you’re trying to do, but to me, if you’re going to have a chicken festival, it doesn’t need to be virtual,” said Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Bray. “... We need to have it when people can come. We need to do it downtown.”

Hopeful that vaccine distribution would permit the state to reopen fully before 2022, Bray suggested postponing the Spring Chicken Festival until summer.

“A virtual chicken festival just doesn’t seem right to me,” she said.

In contrast, Commissioner Bill Haiges suspected state restrictions will not permit mass gatherings by year’s end.

“My concern is that by moving it out to August, we may not even have the guidance from the governor to allow an in-person gathering that large.”

While he “would love to have an in-person chicken festival,” Haiges recommended proceeding with the virtual event in lieu of further delay.

The commissioners are expected to further deliberate in coming board meetings, but whatever their decision, Clelland says it will prioritize resident safety.

“We want everybody to stay safe,” he said. “We’re going to try to operate and provide what opportunities we can safely ... Hopefully once all this is over, we’ll be back to normal and get back to rocking and rolling.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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