It may be hot this weekend, but there's no better place to cool down than the home of the World's Sweetest Watermelons -- Cave City, Arkansas.
Each year, the town turns out to celebrate what's great about Cave City -- the people, the things they do, and the watermelons they grow.
Cave City sits in an incredible growing region in Arkansas. The ground contains just the right amount of sand and soil in the appropriate ratios. This good earth creates the world's sweetest melons -- melons that are off the scale in sugar content.
The families that grow here -- the Johnson brothers, the Patterson brothers, the Penns, the Perkeys, the Carters, the Wooldridges and the Doyles -- have been doing this for generations. It's more than a tradition, it's a way of life.
But growing melons isn't easy. You have to rotate your crops around each year so the soil can recover. You have to provide adequate irrigation. You have to watch for frost and drought and all the things growing things need. And you have to know when the time is right to take the melon from the vine.
And the time is now. Each August, people from all over Arkansas come to this mecca north of Batesville, to feast on ice cold melon and take in good music, fun activities, and more.
It's a three day affair. On Thursday night, Cave City Park opens for the action. There will be food vendors out there and an open mike on the stage. Then at 7 p.m., Evonne Baxter and Big Creek take the stage, followed by the pickin' & grinnin' excitement of White River Bluegrass.
On Friday, it's a repeat -- more food, more good music. The mic opens at 6 p.m. -- with Rockin' Luke Stroud at 7 p.m. and Sonny Burgess & The Pacers at 8 p.m.
Saturday -- it's a full day of fun. There's the Kiwanis Club Pancake Breakfast starting at six in the morning! You have to get a good start to get through the day!
Then more fun follows -- the parade starting at the high school at 10 a.m., the vendors are open, all sorts of stuff kicks off for the kids.
There's an auto show on the back side of the park, where prizes are won for the amateurs and the pros alike. The scent of barbeque fills the air, as rival grillers peddle their meat.
At one pavilion, you can check out the prize winning melons. Some are big, some are little, all are potentially the best thing you've ever tasted in your life. You read through the entries, and realize that right alongside all the big name growers there are entries from Cave City kids. Here, it's all about the melon.
Along the shady paths you'll find everything from souvenir stands to t-shirts to booths from all the local businesses. Pick up a pen from the bank or a fan from the church. Enter a few drawings. Talk with people -- and you'll find that along with the people from the area there are people that have come from three or four states over. In 2006 some 15,000 people came through the Cave City Watermelon Festival, and they were all greeted with the same warm welcome.
At 4 p.m., an announcement is made from the main stage, and everyone lines up. Out by the ball diamond fence, a refrigerated truck pulls up and tables are put out. Then the growers themselves serve up hunks and chunks of ice cold watermelon -- red, yellow, or orange -- you choose what you want and take however large a piece you think you can handle.
A hush falls over the area. Seeds are spit. Juice runs. Kids run back for more -- and they can have as much as they want -- it's all free.
On Saturday, growers expect to cut up and serve more than a thousand melons. And they're all donated. No need to pay here -- it's all the watermelon you can eat, for free.
After the first round of melon, the prizes are announced -- and the prize watermelons are auctioned off. The money raised goes to Arkansas Children's Hospital. You can take one of these home -- or buy one from one of the family stands that line Highway 167.
Then, the sound of sweet gospel will fill the air. Charles Landers & the Gospel Hour Singers are up at 6 p.m., followed by Gospel Echoes and then Karen Peck & New River.
Despite the heat, it's bound to be another perfect day. People are polite, and almost everything is free. The parking is free, the melons are free, the entertainment is free -- well, you might have to pay for that ice cream cone or beef brisket, but you're still getting a heck of a bargain.
To get to the festival from Central Arkansas, take Highway 67/167 north to Bald Knob. Take the exit and head north toward Batesville. Go straight through town and head on up. Once you hit the city limits, look for the turnoff for Cave City Park on the left.
For more information, check out the Cave City Chamber of Commerce website.
And if you're in the area, check out the melons from some of the area growers.