March 22, 2014 11:40:45 PM
A special event in Columbus has been getting good buzz. On Saturday, March 29, Catfish in the Alley returns to the Friendly City for the 2014 Spring Pilgrimage. This year's festivity is recognized as "Editor's Choice" by Garden & Gun magazine in its February/March issue. The sixth annual event expands to all-day, with an inaugural catfish cooking competition, more music, the Red Tail "Rise Above" traveling exhibit and inflatables for youngsters.
Saturday's activities from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. will be concentrated in Catfish Alley -- Fourth Street South between Main and College Streets -- and on a portion of College Street, in downtown Columbus.
Catfish in the Alley recalls a much earlier time, when African-American fishermen caught catfish in the Tombigbee River along First Street and brought the fish up the hill to Fourth. There it was fried and sold. The aroma of catfish cooking permeated the air, which led to the name of the alley that became known as a hub for African-American business, blues music and delicious food.
Now the alley will resonate with the sounds and aromas again.
Catfish chefs will face off in a contest that gets underway at 10 a.m.. Winners will be announced at noon. Guests can purchase a $7.50 ticket for a catfish plate and use it at the booth of their choice.
Wayne Beard is one of the contestants who will prepare Mississippi-raised fish provided by Simmons Catfish.
"I think the contest is a good thing. I feel like anything we can do to create interest in downtown Columbus, we should get after it," said Beard
Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Nancy Carpenter said, "We'll have a large tent, with tables and chairs to sit under and enjoy the wonderful food and music. We'll also have patio tables with umbrellas down through the alley."
Entertainers will perform on a stage set up at the Main Street-end of Catfish Alley. Terry "Harmonica" Bean from Pontotoc starts the roster off at 10 a.m. The Voices in Harmony Choir from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science are set to perform at about 11:30 a.m. Mickey Rogers and the Mickey Rogers Band of Greenville go on near 1 p.m. Bean returns to the stage with his band at 2:30 p.m., and International Blues Challenge-winner Grady Champion from Canton and his band begin at about 4:30 p.m. Bill Gavin of Columbus will DJ between sets.
"Come out and just enjoy it all," urged Carpenter, adding that there is no charge to hear the music or take advantage of the jumpers and "Rise Above" exhibit that honors the Tuskegee Airmen of the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Concessions will be available throughout the day in the city parking lot between Main and College Streets. Durable cups and long- and short-sleeve T-shirts bearing the guitar-slinging catfish illustration created by Tim Bower for Garden & Gun will be available for purchase.
Garden & Gun's recognition is a distinct honor, said Carpenter. Editors of the South Carolina-based magazine looked at cultural events across 16 states.
"Then they sat down and answered the question, if you could get on a bus and go to any of these events, which would you choose first," explained the CVB director. "They chose Columbus, Mississippi."
But that isn't the only place Columbus has attracted mention. Mississippi magazine, Food Traveler and Eat, Drink Mississippi magazines have noticed some of the good things going on in the city, Carpenter noted. Other publications, on topics from historic tourism to waterway recreation, have as well.
"There are publications across the U.S. that have noted the strength of Columbus," said Carpenter. "It all ties into Mississippi's creative economy."
For more information about Catfish in the Alley, historic home tours and many other special events during Pilgrimage, go to visitcolumbusms.org or contact the CVB, 800-920-3533.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.