The sixth annual International Biscuit Festival has come and gone and, according to the website, as many as 20,000 people took part. I wouldn’t hazard a guess, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was, indeed, that many people. But there was a huge difference this year: Even with the massive crowds, movement through the site was possible.
There were several notable improvements that probably contributed to the better flow. The most significant was the removal of the lines for the various booths from the central flow of the crowds. Lines wound through parking lots, down the sidewalk behind the vendors and through varying types of cordons, leaving the street for people passing from one end to the other. There also seemed to be more seating, which allowed for people to pull themselves from the crowd as they ate. The footprint was also expanded to stretch down Church Street, which made a great difference.
There seemed to be fewer vendors offering related items this year, but that may have just been a variable of the fact that it was all spread out a bit more. If anything, it seemed there were more biscuits. I was able to sample Honey Bee Coffee from their mobile truck. They are now roasting out in Farragut and you’ll find their coffee downtown at a kiosk in the Brown Bag. I liked my morning cup well enough I had an afternoon cup to finish the day.
Of course awards were given out to a wide range of competitors. Mama’s Farmhouse won the People’s Choice Award for their “Mama Says Don’t Say Maybe to Chocolate Gravy” biscuit. They had quite a line, but so did a number of other biscuit makers. Gormet’s Market/Cosmos Cafe finished second in that category with their “Big Nasty.” I didn’t taste it, but it had the longest line I saw and people in the line said its reputation had spread enough to make it worth the wait. They also won the “Last Biscuit Standing” award.
The Critic’s Choice Award went to Mason Dixie Biscuit Company for their “Nina Lee Biscuette.” Nina herself was serving them up with great flair and she carried that flare with her to a win in the Miss Biscuit contest later in the day. Sapphire joined with WATE to win the best booth and booths were one of the things I noticed this year. There appeared to be quite a bit of effort put into not simply having a table with a banner. Picking a winner in that category was probably quite difficult. Kara Case, a very young baker, won the Biscuit Baking Contest.
The songwriting contest fell late in the day and I’ll have to confess my low expectations were exceeded. There were several very good songs performed, but ultimately the Knox County Jug Stompers won for the third year in a row with their composition, “Mama Don’t Make Those Biscuits Anymore.” Their appearance was as striking as their music with a baby strapped to the front of the woman playing the tub-bass and a toddler strapped to the back of the lead vocalist. It made me want to grow a beard and write a biscuit song for next year.
Once again, the Blackberry Farms Biscuit Brunch was a big hit. Served in a special tent on the Krutch Park extension, the event sold out at $85 a ticket. Watching the food being prepared on grills behind the tent made it look very good. Guests were entertained by Greg Horne and a friend with a bit of Old Time music. A kind woman left the tent as I took photographs and offered to have me join their table, but I had family waiting. Isn’t that Knoxville for you? Very sweet.
The Mr. and Miss Biscuit Contest is always goofy fun, with special thanks to Erin Donovan who hams it up on stage and manages to bring out the inner goofball in the contestants while being consistently funny, herself. Nina Lee of Mason Dixie Biscuit Company won, as I mentioned earlier and she was about as cute as she could be. The star of the show, however, was Kiran Sirah who was born in South London, but arrived in the U.S. via Scotland (hence the kilt, I suppose). He did a hilarious beatbox with a biscuit them. It wasn’t just funny, it was good.
Unfortunately I missed the bands and I really would have liked to hear them. I festival hopped all day with the Children’s Festival of Reading and always seemed to arrive at the stage just after bands finished their sets. But it was a good day with lots of biscuits eaten, no rain and a bunch of happy people. Just to add the right touch, bubbles pumped out by the Lipton Tea truck floated over the heads of the biscuit heads.
One final side note: I estimated about 200 cars used the new Walnut Street Garage, which is a good thing. I would not have expected that many to find it so quickly. There might have been more usage if there was some indication the parking was free. In the absence of signs and with the gates down, people must have assumed they were going to pay. As they exited they were not charged, though there was a long line (two floors) attempting to exit as I passed through because the gates were very slow to rise and only one of the two exit lanes onto Walnut were open. Hopefully these are early bugs that will be worked out soon.