3rd Annual International Biscuit Festival 2012

Event organizer John Craig starts the day with interviews.

I hope you had a chance to make it downtown this past Saturday. It’s hard to imagine the humble little biscuit causing the level of commotion it induced in our little city, but so it was. The prediction was for 25,000 people to be milling about downtown and I doubt we missed it by much if we missed it at all.

Line to buy tickets for the International Biscuit Festival
Mickie Mallonee sells tickets to the Biscuit Breakfast
Biscuit Breakfast Crowd

The line for the $5 pass to sample the lard for the length of Biscuit Boulevard stretched over half a block by 8:15 and the event didn’t start until 9:00. People got the memo to be early. There was less of a line to buy the $10 biscuit breakfast, but that’s what we did. It seemed a little more workable than vying for samples in the midst of the massive crowds. I overheard a group of four college students from the Nashville area, who just happened to be downtown this weekend and had no idea what was happening, ask, “Do you think this street is really named Biscuit Boulevard?”

Booths before the crowds hit - International Biscuit Festival 2012
Aprons - before the crowd hit - International Biscuit Festival 2012
Paul and Terri from the Tree and Vine at the International Biscuit Festival 2012

The event centered itself at the intersection of Market and Clinch stretching a block in either direction on Clinch and from the edge of the Farmer’s Market outside Krutch Park down to Church Street. Events were also held in Krutch Park extension and in the Daylight Building. Vendors lined Clinch while lard purveyors lined Market. At Church and Market a band played most of the morning and the tent for the $10 breakfast was pitched in a parking lot on that end. Parking lots seem much nicer when covered with a food tent.

View south from Clinch and Market - International Biscuit Festival 2012
View north from Clinch and Market - International Biscuit Festival 2012
View north from Church Street stage - International Biscuit Festival 2012

Among the booths offering aprons, cook books and kitchen utensils along with everything biscuit, I found Paul and Terri who will soon be opening the Tree and the Vine which I profiled here. They had a sampling of their olive oils and balsamic vinegar as well as a small cache of their kitchen utensils. The couple is spending a significant amount of time in Knoxville preparing the store for a June opening. Paul is doing all the woodwork in his shop in Asheville and transporting the cabinets as he finishes sections. I’m sure it will be beautiful. In the meantime I can testify to the delight of their aged tradional balsamic, which is good enough to drink and the basil olive oil which we enjoyed with our last morsels of Harry’s bread.

Favorite slogan for the day - International Biscuit Festival 2012
Final Instructions for the Blackberry Farms Biscuit Brunch - International Biscuit Festival 2012
Blackberry Farms Biscuit Brunch - International Biscuit Festival 2012

Lest you think the entire event, given the lowly biscuit is its symbol is a low brow outing, I’ve included pictures of the Blackberry Farms brunch. At $85 a ticket, they sold out their tent. I realize it must have been great food, but was it $75 better than the biscuit breakfast? I’m too poor to ever find out.

Liza McJelly won the Miss Biscuit Contest - International Biscuit Festival 2012
"Show Me Your Biscuits" - Miss Biscuit contest
Japan meets Southern Culture - Miss Biscuit Contest, International Biscuit Festival 2012

One of the most fun – and bizarre – events of the day was the Miss and Mr. Biscuit contest which featured interview, poise and talent portions. The talents ranged from rambling monologues and raps to making biscuits and a speed eating display as well as self-defense using biscuits. Erin Donovan MC’d and was funny in her own right.

Miss Biscuit Contest - International Biscuit Festival 2012
Miss(or Mr.) Biscuit Contest - International Biscuit Festival 2012
Miss Biscuit Contest - International Biscuit Festival 2012

The winners included a duo of a girl posing as a French poet and a unicorn, an Asian girl from Cruise Farms who spoke in broken English and I could never determine if that was part of her act (it certainly added to her charm) or if she speaks broken English. The winner was Liza McJelly or something to that effect who did a pretty good and consistent Liza Minnelli imitation.

I have to mention that I had another great experience in the middle of the day. I sat at the French Market drinking Italian coffee,  pretending to be in Paris while reading a book on ornamental iron in Mobile, Alabama when my ears picked up a little French being spoken. It was the fourth or fifth language besides English I’d heard that day, which I always love, but French at the French Market? Perfect. I talked to Ann who is from Paris and has lived with her husband in Knoxville for thirteen years. Delightful.

Sidewalk outside the Daylight Building - International Biscuit Festival 2012
Kristen Serving up the Just Ripe Biscuits - International Biscuit Festival 2012

As the festivities wound down I walked to the Daylight Building where Kristen and others were serving Just Ripe sample biscuits on the sidewalk. I have to say they were the best biscuits I had all day. I had one with sorghum butter but they also had one with pimento. And they make them all the time, not just for the International Biscuit Festival. You should check it out.

Runner-up reads her biscuit poem - International Biscuit Festival 2012
Connie Greens reads her winning biscuit poem - International Biscuit Festival 2012

Finally, I stopped at Union Avenue Books and heard the runner-up and winning biscuit poems. Both were excellent – and pretty serious as it turned out. Connie Green who is a regional writer who has won national awards for her work was the first place winner. I also listened to Jack Rentfro issuing his poetic indictments against our entire culture, “Oh ye Pepsi Generation!” Laith Keilany played a Taylor guitar behind him and Bob Deck played electric guitar.

Jack Rentfro at Union Avenue Books - International Biscuit Festival 2012
Laith Keilany at Union Avenue Books - International Biscuit Festival 2012

So, it was a good day. There were a few other parts to the day that I’ll riff on later, but it was good fun and great to see the city abuzz. It wasn’t so bad to see it slow down a bit on Sunday. I’m not sure I want to live in a city that never sleeps – this old body can only take so much and it’s been pretty non-stop for the last two months.