CHIPLEY - The numbers are in, and they're proof positive the 58th annual Panhandle Watermelon Festival was bigger and better than ever before.
Chipley Police Chief Kevin Crews estimates more than 5,000 were in attendance for Friday night's concert event in Pal's Park, featuring country singers Ashton Sheperd, Jeff Bates and headliner John Anderson.
"We parked more cars than ever before," said Chief Crews. "We parked them in areas that we've never had to use before."
Festival Chairman Judge Colby Peel said attendance isn't the only thing that's grown; local support has reached record numbers as well.
"The support of the community and local sponsors has been tremendous," said Judge Peel. "We have people from other festivals calling and asking how we're able to do this for free, and we tell them we just have great support. It's important to provide a quality free event for our community. There are many who can't afford to take their family to Panama City or Dothan for a day out. Giving them a family oriented event like this at no charge is how we're able to measure our success."
Two of the largest draws this year were country legend John Anderson, who is celebrating the 30th anniversary of his classic hit "Swinging," and Grammy nominated Dailey & Vincent, who have been called the "rockstars of bluegrass."
"Two weeks ago, Dailey & Vincent were playing at Carnegie Hall. Last week, they were at the Grand Ole Opry. This week, they were playing at the Ag Center in Chipley, Florida," said Judge Peel. "That's pretty neat to me."
The watermelon auction held Saturday is another crowd favorite. While none of the melons matched last year's record watermelon that sold for a total of $12,000, the Grand Champion melon sold for $2,800.
All proceeds go to funding next year's festival, which the committee is already planning.