Cave City watermelon festival kicks off 42nd year

by George Jared ([email protected]) 3,522 views 

For nearly half a century, Cave City residents in Sharp County have claimed that the sweetest watermelons are grown in and around their hometown. Since 1980, they’ve invited the rest of the world to dispute or embrace the claim.

The 42nd annual Cave City Watermelon Festival is slated to begin Thursday (July 28) and run through Saturday (July 30). Thousands are expected to attend the three-day event.

Live musicians such as Luke Stroud, the Farris Family Quartet, Legacy Five, Shane Thornton, and others will perform Thursday and Friday. Triple Nickel, with U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, is slated to open for the Bellamy Brothers, one of the most successful music acts from the 1970s and 1980s with hits such as “Let Your Love Flow” on Friday night.

A host of other events will be held Saturday including the Melon Dash 5-K, the Cave City Cruisers Car Show, Watermelon Parade, Watermelon Growers Games, and many other activities are slated. Singers Wade Hays and Mark Wills will round out the live music slate on Saturday night.

Watermelons have been consumed by humans for at least 5,000 years. Genetic tests show that watermelons originated in Sudan in Africa. Its ancestors had a white flesh and were not very sweet, according to Live Science. The modern version of this fruit is often fed to livestock.

Other watermelon varieties were developed through the years and it became a popular fruit in Africa and parts of Asia. It has been noted that famed Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen had watermelon seeds buried in his tomb.

It’s believed that the African slave trade in the 1600’s led to the fruit making its trans-Atlantic crossing into the Americas. It was widely grown throughout the country and especially in the South.

When Cave City held its first festival, then Gov. Bill Clinton attended as the guest of honor. There was one problem, however. 1980 was one of driest years ever on record in Arkansas and most area growers didn’t have any watermelons left when the festival was held, according to the Cave City Watermelon Festival website.

One grower, Herschel Runsick, planted his crop in the Strawberry River bottoms and he grew just enough watermelons to make the first festival a success. An estimated 2,400 people attended the inaugural parade. For a complete schedule of events and other information, visit here.