An annual Athens Black-eyed Pea Jamboree, born 50 years ago, was a summer destination for folks around the region.
Although another July is going by without the onetime summer blow out, Athens Chamber of Commerce Director Kristen Willingham said it could be back in 2022.
“There’s not anything definitive yet, but there have been discussions of bringing the black-eyed pea festival back in all of its glory,” she said.
The Black-eyed Pea Jamboree once brought in big name musical acts, media personalities from the metroplex and a mess of cooks, watermelon eaters, terrapin racers and kids looking for a cool snow cone or a spinning amusement ride.
Thing to be decided about a redux are what time of year would it take place and whether it could somehow be intertwined with Athens’ long running Old Fiddler’s Reunion. Willingham said all that is still to be determined.
At the height of its popularity Black-eyed Pea was in the heart of summer, about mid-July. The vendors would set up their wares on Friday, Saturday would be packed full of activities and events would roll through Sunday.
The setting was Central Park at Henderson County Junior College, later Trinity Valley Community College. The Student Union Building would serve as the site of the annual black-eyed pea cook off. Contestants would whip up main dishes, salads, appetizers and desserts.
The first festival was held in 1971. The guest speaker was Texas Lt. Governor Ben Barnes, whose career appeared to be on the rise in Austin.
“I do hope this jamboree becomes nationwide and that the recognition you receive will help you progress,” Barnes said.
A country music show was part of the festivities for a few years. Locals saw Willie Nelson, Ronny Milsap and the Bellamy Brothers at various times during the run of the jamboree.
One year, Julie Bunnell, Food Editor for the Dallas Morning News was a judge. Bunnell was known by a generation in North Texas for her cooking show.
In the '90s, cook off champion Laura Owen was featured on national television, giving the celebration a little more notoriety.
In 2016, then mayor Jerry Don Vaught expressed a hope that the BEP would return.
“We have to have as much as we can to bring people back to love it as we love it,” Vaught said.