CHIPLEY - The 61st installment of the Panhandle Watermelon Festival is predicated to draw the largest crowd yet, thanks to growing popularity of the festival both on a local and national level, as well as expanded activities and an upswing of big name entertainers.
This year's festivities will kick off in Pals Park in Chipley at 5 p.m. Friday, June 23, with several vendors and children's activities. Live musical entertainment begins at 6 p.m.
This year's lineup includes country stars Julie Roberts, Restless Heart, and Darryl Worley.
"Holding to tradition, Panhandle Watermelon Festival consistently spotlights legendary music acts coupled with family oriented activities making this two day festival unlike any other offered in our area," said PWF Chairman Colby Peel. "Our goal remains to bring the highest quality entertainment to this community while ensuring this event is free to everyone who attends."
The fun will continue Saturday, June 24, with various events taking place, including the annual Watermelon Parade and the return of the Watermelon Car Show.
"We are very excited to have the car show back," Peel said. "You don't realize how much it adds to the festival until it's not there."
Activities will begin at 11 a.m. at the Washington County Agricultural Center with vendors, the traditional watermelon auction, and more music from local artist Tom Buller. Buller's performance will be followed by three-time Grammy nominees and two-time International Bluegrass Music Association Entertainer of the Year winners, The Grascals.
Last year's event drew about 6,000, filling every hotel room in Washington County - but that number is expected to grow exponentially this weekend.
"There's no doubt we're growing year by year," Peel said. "The first year saw about 500 in attendance, but as the community continues to support the festival, it becomes bigger and better. We are pleased to see so many getting in the spirit and showing their support by decorating their homes and businesses. We don't ask them to do that; they just do."
Peel reports that community support is also reflected in an increase of sponsors.
"The fact there's more sponsors this year reflects how many people are invested in seeing this event grow," he said. "All money raised goes straight back to the community to help fund next year's festival and ensure it remains a quality, free event."
2016 PWF Schedule of Events
Friday, June 23:
5 p.m.: Gates open
6 p.m.: Music lineup, beginning with Julie Roberts, followed by Restless Heart and headliner Darryl Worley
Saturday, June 24:
6 a.m. to 9 a.m.: Pancake Breakfast at the Panhandle Shrine Club - First responders welcome beginning at 5:30 a.m. Cost is $5 per person with all proceeds benefiting services provided by the Panhandle Shrine Club.
7: 30 a.m.: Watermelon Hot Trot, beginning at Florida Panhandle Technical College
8 a.m. and throughout the day: Watermelon Car Show, held at Florida Panhandle Technical College
10 a.m.: Watermelon Parade - line up is at the Chipley High School football stadium parking lot. No registration is required.
Washington County Agricultural Center:
11 a.m.: Music by Tom Buller
11:45 a.m.: Queen introductions
Noon: Watermelon auction
1:30 p.m.: Music by The Grascals
8 p.m. Watermelon Dance at the Panhandle Shrine Club, featuring Chad Street - Admission $10