CHIPLEY — The threat of rain did little to dampen festivities at the 59th annual Panhandle Watermelon Festival this weekend.


CHIPLEY — The threat of rain did little to dampen festivities at the 59th annual Panhandle Watermelon Festival this weekend.



Organizers said more than 5,000 people attended and a record $30,025 was raised by the watermelon auction, the major funding source for the festival.



“We are incredibly grateful to have experienced another record-breaking watermelon weekend,” festival Chairman Colby Peel said. “As our community is known to do, they responded in a remarkable way, raising over $30,000 in big watermelon auction sales, which will keep our 60th annual Watermelon Festival free to everyone who attends.”



The melon that brought the highest price was sold to Derwin White of GAC Contractors for $3,500.



The watermelon sale wasn’t the festival’s only success. Activities started Friday night with the traditional concert in the park with country music artists Daryle Singletary, Exile and Mark Wills performing for an almost standing-room-only crowd.



“I can’t speak for the other 58 Watermelon Festivals, but Daryle Singletary, Exile and myself are excited to be a part of this event,” Mark Wills said before he took the stage. “There’s a lot of country music fans here in Washington County, and we’re having a ball.”



Country Music Hall of Famer Jimmy Fortune, who was a member of the Statler Brothers for more than 20 years, wrapped up the festivities with a performance at the Washington County Agricultural Center on Saturday. He said the Panhandle Watermelon Festival is one of the best he has ever attended.



“It was an honor to be invited to perform,” he said. “I heard about the festival from (Grammy-nominated bluegrass group) Dailey and Vincent after they performed here. They said the residents are friendly and the community pulls together, and I can see they were right. I’ve really enjoyed this festival. It’s the heart of America right here.”



This year’s festival attracted some new guests, including state Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who stopped by the annual pancake breakfast hosted by the Panhandle Shrine Club.



Gaetz took time to meet some of his potential constituents as he gears up for the 2016 District 1 Senate race to fill the post now held by his father, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.



“Everyone at the pancake breakfast has been so friendly,” Gaetz said. “I look forward to participating in the other events and definitely plan on coming back.”