CLINTON — Downtown was packed with thousands of visitors and hundreds of vendors’ booths for the eighth annual Red, White and Blueberry Festival on Saturday.
Crowd estimates ranged from 2,000 or 3,000 to as many as 5,000 people by noon, while Clinton Main Street Association manager Carol Shirley said organizers were hoping for 10,000 visitors by the time the band concerts and the fireworks show would be over Saturday night.
“Usually we have 1,500 to 3,000, but we expect a bigger crowd this year,” Shirley said. Despite the hot weather, people kept arriving all afternoon and filled the surrounding neighborhoods with parked vehicles.
Visitors could browse booths selling food, clothing, art, crafts, books, bunnies and chickens, and of course all sorts of things made from blueberries. There were 28 entries in the Blueberry Cooking event ranging from syrup to jellies to salsa, contest judge Annette Brady said.
But the biggest draw by far was the “The Alligator Man” booth manned by professional gator hunter Bruce Mitchell, of Ponchatoula. Mitchell is one of several Louisiana gator hunters featured on the History Channel’s reality TV show “Swamp People.”
Wearing his hallmark stars and stripes bandana and bib overalls, Mitchell patiently signed hats, T-shirts and photos of himself posing with his gator-hunting canine sidekick Tyler, for a long line of fans. But Tyler wasn’t feeling well Saturday and didn’t come along, Mitchell repeatedly had to tell young fans who wanted to meet the dog, too.
“It’s cool — I love it,” said Emery Gardner, 11, after Mitchell autographed a photo of himself for her.
“I loved meeting him,” said Kerri Delatte, 23, after Mitchell came out from behind his table to pose with her baby daughter, Raelyn, 17 months, while husband Ryan, 24, took photos with his iPhone. “I want to go hunting with him,” Ryan Delatte said.
Being seen by millions of viewers on television changed his life, Mitchell admitted during a pause in greeting his fans. “We can’t go to Walmart hardly,” he said. “But I like it because I like people. We’re just normal people. We just do what we have to do.”
Marsha Kemp, an event organizer who hosted a veterans services booth next to Mitchell’s, said that “the kids just love him.”
The association planned to present Mitchell at the end of the day with a large, lifelike, alligator-shaped cake, donated by the Ambrosia bakery.
Down the street, Connie Williams and her children were selling live bunny rabbits, chickens and ducks. Not too many had sold, “but I’ve seen several fights between kids and their mothers,” over buying a rabbit, she said with a big smile.
Melanie Stowers was selling homemade blueberry lemonade and business was good, she said. “It’s a hot day — that’s always nice for blueberry lemonade.”
Children romped on several inflatable slides and castles while women browsed art and clothing booths. Families ate together while trying to stay cool under the shady, sprawling live oaks surrounding the historic East Feliciana Parish Courthouse.