Monticello Watermelon Festival Draws Large Crowd
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer
MONTICELLO – Beverly Crowder didn’t know what to think when she heard sirens going off, the loud sound of motorcycles roaring and horns blowing not far from her home near downtown Monticello.
“What in the world is going on this time of day on a Saturday?” she wondered. “We walked out and low and behold, there were people everywhere. We ran down and caught the last part of it.”
What she witnessed was her first Watermelon Festival parade 17 years ago. She and thousands of others from surrounding counties, including some from Georgia, lined a portion of Highway 19 on both sides of the town’s historic courthouse to take in this year’s parade Saturday morning.
The parade was more than just a showcase of floats that carried children. Music blared from vehicles that tugged the floats, people danced in the streets, members of a motorcycle club and even antique cars were on display.
All in the name of celebrating the watermelon, which was plentiful on a scorching morning.
The heat couldn’t keep the crowd from coming. Especially Monticello native Willie James, who now resides in Pahokee.
His 91-year-old mother Bernice Scurry was perched in a lawn chair as close as she could get to see the parade. A passerby reached over and handed her candy from the bag he carried.
“You are never too old for a candy, mom,” he said, strutting away.
Many in the crowd said it was the biggest Watermelon Festival parade they’d seen. But not too long ago there was discussion about doing away with the event, said Nan Baughman, who along with Sherri Dean co-chairs the event.
It was getting “stale” and volunteers felt a little burned out, she said.
“People were like; ‘no we can’t get rid of the watermelon festival,’ ” Baughman said. “It’s just a part of the history.”
Monticello was once known as the watermelon seed capital of the nation and that became the impetus for celebrating the fruit 65 years ago. It has since become the biggest gathering of people in the town just a 25-minute drive east of Tallahassee.
As the parade dwindled to the last few entries, the crowed moved to Dogwood and Cherry streets where vendors lined both sides. Everything was on sale – from Italian sausage to handmade jewelry and even plants in a make-shift nursery set up by John Bodin.
He’s been a regular at the festival for more than two decades.
“We have people who are white, brown, yellow that buy from us and we treat everybody the same – like a friend,” said Bodin, who owns a nursery in Wray, Ga. “It brings people out to forget their problems for a day or two.”
Some folks simply sat on bleachers to enjoy the music of the Hot Tamales, a singing duo of guitarists. Adrianne Foglin and Craig Reider entertained the crowd with their version of songs from popular genres.
Tallahassee’s Aaron Platt was there with his sons, ages 2 and 4. The youngest sat on his shoulders, while the oldest held Platt’s hands, as sweat beaded up on his face.
But he said he wouldn’t have traded the opportunity to expose his children to be a part of the diverse crowd.
“You have a lot of different, crazy stuff going on in the world today. I grew up (on the south side of Tallahassee),” said Platt, who now lives in Buck Lake. “I don’t want them to grow up that way. Any opportunity I can get to get them out to see something different I do it.”