Progress 2024: Peachy Keen — Chilton County Peach Festival moves to month-long celebration

Published 2:05 pm Friday, May 17, 2024

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This story was originally featured in Progress 2024.

Story by Carey Reeder | Photos by Carey Reeder and Brandon Sumrall

After the largest Peach Festival in Chilton County’s history in 2023, new additions and adjustments to the 2024 festival makes it poised to surpass its predecessor. Representatives from the City of Clanton, the Chilton County Chamber of Commerce, the Clanton Lion’s Club and the City of Clanton Arts Council met on Dec. 8, 2023 to announce plans for the 2024 Chilton County Peach Festival which included making the festival a month-long event.

The yearly celebrations which recognizes Chilton County’s most precious fruit, resource and identity will now have a month to bring attention to the farmers who make it happen. Clanton City Councilman Billy Singleton said that the City of Clanton, as well the Chilton County administration, has recently taken a huge initiative by helping sponsor and promote a lot of the events associated with the Peach Festival.

“I think the county has been promoting its peach legacy much more now than it has (in the past),” Singleton said. “As we have promoted it more, it has grown into a festival that is recognized throughout the southeast. People find the Peach Festival very unique, and it is not something you run into everyday in a lot of places, and I think that draws a lot of people itself because we are famous for our peaches.”

The celebrations will now begin in June starting on June 7-8 with the Peach Jam Jubilee, moving from the culminating event of the Peach Festival to now the kickoff event. Rachel Martin, Executive Director of the Chilton County Chamber of Commerce, said that the Peach Festival has grown so much that it made sense to expand it to continue the celebrations all month long.

She added that the Peach Jam Jubilee being the kickoff event is a positive, however, it does cut down on some of their planning time for it, but they have the planning down to an art now.

“Our peach farmers and peach industry need to be celebrated all year long, but to dedicate the whole month to it felt like the right thing to do,” Martin said. “I love that the Jubilee is going to be the kickoff instead of the culmination of the festival. It kind of breaks up (the events) so people can go enjoy the parade and the auction without having to leave one and go straight to the other. I think it is going to be a good change.”

For the first time, the Peach Jam Jubilee will be a two-day event as well. The first night of the event will include a gospel music theme from the stage in Clanton City Park, with the second night’s entertainment coming from a major country music recording artist complimented by a very popular rock and roll tribute band. The event will also feature the finalist’s performances in Chilton’s Got Talent.

Singleton said the festival is taking on a different approach this year because it has grown too big for one or two groups to just take on planning everything associated with it themselves. This year, the City of Clanton will still provide police and fire first responders and make the park available, but also be responsible for the musical entertainment.

“Like anything, it is much better at the end of the day when we can all work toward a common goal, and I think that has been one of the biggest things,” Singleton said.

Martin and the Chamber of Commerce will oversee the vendors portion of the Peach Jam Jubilee, which had over 150 vendors last year and continues to grow each year. The vendor list has grown so large in recent years that it had to be closed due to having too many vendors in the allotted space in Clanton City Park. However, the selective list will also raise the quality of the vendors and food trucks that make the journey to the Peach Festival. Other attractions at the Peach Jam Jubilee include a farmer’s market, kid’s zone and numerous food and drink options

Following the Peach Jam Jubilee, other events that have been synonymous with the Chilton County Peach Festival will fill in the remainder of June. The Peach Queen Pageants will be scheduled throughout the month to spread them out more, and many events in downtown Clanton in Corner Park will be held such as Peach City Fest. The annual Peach Run at Cornerstone Fitness will be held during June as well.

The celebrations will conclude on June 29 with the Peach Parade through downtown Clanton and the Peach Auction at Senior Connection in Clanton. The Peach Auction, which set an all-time record of $84,400 in 2023 with 33 baskets of peaches auctioned off, was held the morning of the Peach Jam Jubilee in the past following the parade, making it difficult for people to get there in time for all of the events.

“We are looking to set records, as far as attendance, this year,” Singleton said. “The City of Clanton, the county (administration), the Chamber of Commerce, the Lion’s Club, all of those entities and organizations who work to make this a success will have plans to make this one the biggest and best ever that we have experienced. We are looking to the future, as this thing grows, to try to determine how we can accommodate that.”

Singleton said there were several reasons why the Peach Jam Jubilee was moved to the beginning of the Peach Festival celebrations as opposed to the conclusion, and the expansion to a month, such as using the Peach Jam Jubilee as a kickoff event would bring attention and emphasize the entire month of celebrations. Other reasons for expansion of the festival included shorter days for those who had to work the Peach Jam Jubilee, which included the Peach Parade and Peach Auction on the same day, as some first responders worked close to 20 hours a day at events in the past. Dividing the events will minimize their work loads on those days. Also, moving the Peach Jam Jubilee to the beginning of June will hopefully combat some of the scolding Alabama summer heat that had impacted the celebration in recent years.

“We are the peach capital of Alabama, and I think that is an identity that is not only important to the peach farmers, but everyone who is from Chilton County,” Singleton said. “In my past career I traveled a lot, and the one thing people always recognized when you told them you were from Chilton County, was peaches. I think that is very symbolic of the rural, agricultural life that we have here, and it is just an incredible thing to be proud of. I think it is something we can all take pride in.”