“‘Cause who doesn’t love chocolate?”
she says. “There are not many people that don’t indulge in chocolate, and anything chocolate raises their eyebrow and creates a smile.”
Admission is free, and that’s just the beginning. In honor of the festival’s eighth year, here are eight reasons not to miss what is arguably the most wonderful time of year.
1. Sample the competition
Chocolate’s ability to inspire creativity is put to the test in the Taste-Off, where local confectioners are invited to present their best cake, pie, cookie or “everything else chocolate.” Each entry must contain one ingredient of chocolate and is judged based on taste, visual appeal and preparation.
“It is unbelievable to see the creativity that these men and women ... bring,” said Lee. “The most elaborate perhaps was a chess board, where all the pieces were made out of white chocolate and dark chocolate … and that was awesome!”
After the judging takes place, the public is invited to sample the treats. “It’s a popular event after everything is done,” Lee said.
2. There’s a fountain for that
The 5-foot cascade of chocolate is back for a second year, with pretzels, marshmallows and rice cripsy treats just ready to be covered in the delicious goo. “The set up is just beautiful,” Lee said of the free-flowing confection. “They can come and dip it ... and just go through as many times as their taste buds will allow.”
3. Chug it, don’t toss it
The festival learned a valuable lesson in competitive chocolate consumption its first year, when they held a chocolate pudding eating contest.
“It was absolutely gross. We were seeing pudding coming out of people’s noses,” said Lee. Now the test of stomach strength sticks with chocolate milk. Contestants have a minute to drink up as much milk as they can — and they have to keep it down.
The number to beat? “I think some have done as many as maybe 10,” Lee said.
4. Oh Music, sweet music
On the festival stage, you’ll find a mix of bluegrass, gospel, country and more. Headliners this year include Beatles cover band The Return, and Kate Falcon, a superstar in the making who has the approval of country legends Travis Tritt, Ronnie McDowell and Martina McBride.
The story goes that 13-year-old Falcon got the rare chance to sing onstage at the Grand Ole Opry with McBride, who was clearly impressed.
“When she started singing, Martina just went offstage and sat down.” Lee recalled. “She just blew her away.”
5. Searching for gold
About three weeks before the festival, weekly clues started to appear in the local paper and on radio hinting at where citizens could hunt down the golden ticket, so to speak, to win the festival’s treasure chest. The intentionally vague tips (“There once was a beach there, and some went topless,” for example) could take you on a goose chase all around the city.
“People have climbed trees!” said Lee. This year’s jackpot was valued at around $3,500, including a $2,000 cash prize. The 2013 winner has already been declared and will receive the prize at the festival, says Lee, but that’s no surprise.
“One year it was found after the first week’s clue, and there’s been one year where it took a fifth clue,” she recalled. And one year the race to reach the Chamber of Commerce to claim the jackpot nearly got out of hand. “We had to have the police there to make sure nobody was trampled!”
6. Chocolate not your thing?
Though there’s clearly a theme, the festival also features a carnival for kids, bungee jumping for the adventurous and plenty of space to set up a lawn chair and people-watch. There’s also more than 100 spaces for food and craft vendors that will be filled with jewelry, barbecue, furniture, Dippin’ Dots and more.
“Sit down for the day and relax while your kids can walk around and play and walk around and shop some and listen to some great entertainment as well,” Lee invited.
7. Chocolate-free competition
Each year, third, fourth and fifth graders from Southside Elementary, John Jones Elementary and Westbrook Christian School compete to create the winning design for the year’s Chocolate Festival T-shirts, which will be on sale during the event. And don’t forget the live-action egg toss emceed by the mayor.
With so much going on, making sure everything goes as planned can be a bit overwhelming, Lee says, but with the help of volunteers, sponsors, vendors and city officials, it all comes together.
“It takes a tremendous amount of planning. The details are just unbelievable to make it all happen without a hitch. All the pieces of the puzzle come together at the end of the day for a huge successful day.”
8. Give in to temptation
Even if you think you can just walk around and enjoy the atmosphere, you’re going to go home with some chocolate, no matter what. “Each vendor has to bring something chocolate to give away,” Lee explained, and even the city purchases between 4,000 and 5,000 pieces of candy just to give it away at their Pepsi wagons. “Nobody can say that they’ve gone without chocolate.”
Eighth Annual Chocolate Festival
When: Saturday, April 6, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Where: Rainbow Plaza Parking Lot, 3225 Rainbow Drive, Rainbow City
Admission: Free and open to the public