Community festivals are recurrent seasonal public celebrations of a town’s history, people, holidays, local products, and/or common interests. They are held in parks, streets, and facilities that permit gatherings of large numbers of people, often of different ages, classes, occupations, races, ethnicities, and genders. Locals, former residents, and visitors gather for the annual day or multiday events. Chambers of commerce, tourism committees, and local organizations organize and oversee the festivals. In addition, local businesses, civic/religious organizations, and community members volunteer and provide monetary or in-kind donations such as tables, chairs, tents, and facilities. Nevertheless, each festival is unique because of the people who create and attend it.
These celebrations provide social, economic, and political opportunities that are especially important to communities that no longer have thriving downtowns and growing populations. Although festivals have always been a way to bring together people to celebrate and honor facets of local life, they have become a strategy for revitalizing towns. School, family, and church reunions are frequently scheduled during festivals, and organizations, businesses, and politicians use these events for fund-raising, recruitment, advertising, and/or exposure. Moreover, locals can enjoy a change from their everyday routines as streets and parks are transformed into bustling entertainment centers. These “invented traditions” can create and foster a sense of pride, fellowship, and belonging.
Most festivals adhere to a basic structure: opening and closing events, food and drink, arts and crafts, competitions or demonstrations, and musical entertainment. Some have parades or carnivals. Most community festivals are free or charge a minimal entrance fee for patrons, while vendors pay for booth space. Volunteer labor is often essential. The festival may begin with local leaders and organizers on a central stage, an announcement on a loudspeaker, or a parade. Carnival-type and often regionally specific food is available throughout the day. Most events classified as family-oriented do not serve alcohol. Vendors offer an enormous array of homemade and manufactured items and services such as marshmallow shooters, clothing, jewelry, hand-painted picture frames, and face painting.
Despite the similarities in basic structure, community festivals can differ greatly depending on the local attraction, product, or season being celebrated. In addition to various Fourth of July, seasonal, and Mississippi River–related festivals, the state offers some more unusual gatherings. The one-day World Catfish Festival, held in Belzoni since 1975, has recently featured a 5K fun run/walk, a children’s color run, and the crowning of Miss Catfish and Little Miss Catfish, along with musical entertainment and appearances by local celebrities. The Choctaw Indian Fair, a four-day event now in its seventh decade, offers attendees a chance to learn about the tribe’s history and culture, including traditional Choctaw food and stickball, along with carnival rides, games, and music. The Delta’s storied history as the Birthplace of the Blues has given rise to numerous celebrations of the music, among them Clarksdale’s Juke Joint Festival, Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival, and Deep Blues Festival; Greenville’s Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival, Highway 61 Blues Festival, and Mighty Mississippi Music Festival; and the Hollandale Sam Chatmon Blues Festival. Food-related festivals include the Delta Hot Tamale Festival (Greenville), the Pour Mississippi Beer and Music Festival (Cleveland), Mardi Gras Mambo-cue (Pass Christian), the Slugburger Festival (Corinth), the Natchez Food and Wine Festival, the Vardaman Sweet Potato Festival, and numerous crawfish festivals.
- Choctaw Indian Fair website, www.choctawindianfair.com
- Deep South USA website, www.deep-south-usa.com
- Alessandro Falassi, ed., Time out of Time: Essays on the Festival (1987)
- Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, The Invention of Tradition (1992)
- Mississippi Delta Tourism website, www.visitthedelta.com
- Robert Jerome Smith, in Folklore and Folklife: An Introduction, ed. Richard M. Dorson (1972)
- Beverly J. Stoeltje, in Folklore, Cultural Performances, and Popular Entertainment, ed. Richard Bauman (1992)
- Rory Turner and Philip H. McArthur, in The Emergence of Folklore in Everyday Life: A Fieldguide and Sourcebook, ed. George H. Schoemaker (1990)
- World Catfish Festival website, www.belzonims.com/catfishfest.htm