Revisited: Rock Hill’s Come See Me Festival

Starting last Thursday and continuing until April 25, my little Southern hometown is celebrating its spring festival. Much like the SpringFests and SpringAlives and FestiFuns commemorating the arrival of warm weather you’ll find in other locations, the Come See Me Festival sponsors a variety of events to get people outdoors to experience the fresh air and sunshine of spring.   

When I first moved here, I admit I was a little taken aback by the odd name. At the time, Rock Hill’s primary industry was an acetone processing plant that gave off a constant chemical smell, and it seemed to me that “Come Smell Me” might be a more appropriate label. As I got to know a few locals, they explained the name originated from the common expression of goodwill that Southerners would offer as they emerged from their winter hibernation. “Y’all come see me,” they’d say, warmly reflecting an earlier era of friendliness and civility when people kept constantly clean homes and there was no cable TV. Nowadays, you’d have to add, “but be sure to call first so I can vacuum the couch and set up the DVR to record ‘CSI’.”   

Since then, the name has become second-nature to me, and the phrase “when is Come See Me?” no longer sounds like a recent immigrant trying to schedule a urologist to make a house call. My family doesn’t attend as many of the events as we used to; the large percentage devoted to children’s activities no longer appeal to my 17-year-old (who’s probably done his last “jumpy house” until he’s an inebriated collegian), and the number of marginally interesting activities has exploded as organizers try to fill the calendar from sunrise to sunset.   

One event we do try to make is the so-called “Gourmet Gardens.” What began years ago as an opportunity for local restaurants to sell small samples of their specialties in the lovely venue of a flower-filled garden has gradually devolved into what we experienced Saturday – mostly out-of-town purveyors selling mostly barbecue and gyros at mostly ridiculous prices. One vendor sold his “gyro only” for $6 and his “gyro plate” for whatever amount it is when you handwrite an “9” on top of a “8,” or perhaps vice versa. Whether it’s $17 or $72, that’s one damn fine shaved-lamb sandwich.   

My wife and I milled around the gardens, which is now actually the concrete-paved slab separating a collection of softball fields, trying to find something both palatable and affordable. After several loops around the circle, she settled on fried mushrooms and an ear of cheese-covered corn (the “fried” and “cheese-covered” modifiers would normally be implied, but I add them here for any readers overseas.) Looking for something a little different, I decided to experiment with the “Louisiana Boudoin Balls.” The guy selling them joked he wouldn’t sell me any till I attempted to pronounce the product, so I gave him my best French-inflected “boo-dawn.” He laughed, then handed over the fried, breaded and balled sausage-and-spice concoction. There were (disconcertingly) two of them, hot and peppery, rattling around the bottom of a cone cup, looking thoroughly not worth $3.50 per ball. I tried to convince myself the flavor was exotic, until halfway through the final ball I decided “bad” was a better description.   

I’m pretty sure we won’t be attending many more Come See Me events this week, but I thought I’d describe a few of the other highlights still to come in case anybody out there wants to jet in for next weekend’s finale (rooms are still available at the Super 8, Rodeway and Microtel motels).   

There’s both a Mayor’s Frog Jump and a Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast (the frog, in the person of a “Glen the Frog” costumed character, is the festival’s mascot). In the frog jump, kids can either bring their own frogs — remember, we are in the South — or purchase one on-site. The youngsters then encourage the slippery hoppers to make the biggest jump in the competition by pounding on the ground behind them, blowing air up their hind end, or slipping them a little of Uncle Sonny’s crystal meth. The Prayer Breakfast is basically the same thing, except with city councilmen instead of frogs and pancakes instead of meth. You may be fortunate enough to attend one of these events in a year when organizers get a little confused, and you’ll see either a prayer jump or a frog breakfast.   

There’s a Tuba Choir Concert, one of many musical presentations staged by the local college in the vain hope their musical performance students can get some experience in front of an audience. (Can you imagine a graduate trying to find a job in this economy with a tuba degree?)   

There’s a community theatre performance of “Father Knows Best” running for several nights. I’m not sure if this production distills the entire story arc of the eight-season 1950s TV series down to a single night, or whether a selected episode is recreated (maybe the one where Latin dancer Rita Moreno plays an exchange student from India). But I don’t intend to find out.   

There’s a highly regulated Tailgate Party in a grassy field near Winthrop Lake where no vehicles are allowed, no tailgating is allowed in the lot where you can leave your vehicle, and glass containers, beer kegs, pets, household furniture, wheeled toys, golf carts and tiki torches are prohibited. They don’t specifically disallow improvised explosive devices, kangaroos or investment bankers, so maybe those are permitted.   

There’s a Be Seen Green Parade in which participants where green clothes to show off their environmental awareness and get one more use out of those St. Patrick’s Day ensembles. “We’re going to have some hybrid cars going through the parade this year,” said one organizer, though with any luck their weak acceleration will be such that anyone who’s struck won’t be hurt.   

There are a number of other frog-themed events giving Glen a chance to show his humongous felt mug around town. There’s something called Frog Hoppin’ Fun that showcases amphibian-related games and crafts for the 2-to-6-year-old set while their parents can take advantage of free dental screenings. There’s a Frog Float where sponsored rubber frogs race toward a finish line with the winner getting a $1000 gift certificate (deceased participants from the Mayor’s Frog Jump are ineligible to join, as their bloating gives them unfair buoyancy). And, there’s a Frog Coloring Contest that’s totally fixed, as last year’s winner didn’t even stay inside the lines.   

Rounding out the other highlights, there’s a barbecue competition featuring chefs and their smokers from throughout the Southeast (samples can be purchased, though pork is off the menu); there’s a mass kazoo march in which participants are asked to donate a bottle of lotion to a local children’s home; there’s a sheep-shearing, presumably because you can’t shear frogs; and there’s something called Everything Trucks!, where everything is a truck.   

The festival finale takes place on the last evening this coming Saturday. In what I earnestly pray is a carefully scheduled climax, a team of airborne acrobats from the Carolina Skydiving Team will give a parachute-jumping exhibition, while a Fireworks Extravaganza will fill the sky with brilliant pyrotechnic displays. I can’t believe the organizers of these two separate events wouldn’t vigilantly coordinate their efforts to ensure the jumpers aren’t blown out of the evening sky by rocket-propelled mortars, though maybe the risk of that prospect is meant to draw even bigger crowds to the final night.   

Only a dissection of the beloved Glen would be a more horrible way to end this year’s Come See Me.

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One Response to “Revisited: Rock Hill’s Come See Me Festival”

  1. fakename2 Says:

    I really, really don’t get the frog theme. If you want to draw attention to the unique qualities of your community, it seems to me that a rock would be more appropriate in this case. There are many, many creative things you can do with rocks.
    Also I’d like to correct a scientific misconception regarding dead frogs. Frog losers don’t bloat, at least if you poke holes in them. I know because my cat caught one last week and it turned into a dried up little crisp of the outline of a frog. Well, technically it was a toad.

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