SHIPPENSBURG >> The 35th annual rendition of the Shippensburg Corn Festival transforms the downtown into an eclectic bazaar Saturday when the community's volunteer-driven festival brings crafts, food and entertainment together to clog King Street.
The event runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with hundreds of unique craft vendors, a variety of live entertainers and a host of food stands, featuring offerings ranging from traditional to exotic.
The festival began as a one-time event to fund a historic survey that paved the way for the borough's Historic District, but took immediate root as a recurring attraction. Since its inception, the Corn Festival has contributed more than $300,000 from its proceeds to projects to better the community — the latest a new gazebo at a North Fayette Street pocket park given new life this year.
Corn Festival mascot Corny the Scarecrow, an energetic and ubiquitous icon that delights many children and scares some more timid youngsters, is at the center of a new opportunity this year. The straw man — ever the gracious host — poses for photographs from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at the Spring Lot Gazebo on West King Street, where Corny fans can hand off their cameras to Corn Festival volunteers to snap visual mementoes of the occasion.
Organized around the concept of sweet corn, the festival remains true to its roots, calling on vendors to display a connection — however tenuous — to corn.
The focus on corn became even more visible several years ago with the advent of a corn-eating contest, a popular spectator sport that resulted in the contest's first female champion last year when Michelle Woltz wolfed down eight ears of the Cumberland Valley delicacy in eight minutes to wrest the title from two-time champion Grant Innerst and six other ravenous men.
This year's spectacle is set for 11:30 a.m. at the festival's main stage at King and Earl streets. Music by the Mid Life Cowboys, an innovative and amusing country band that has become a crowd favorite in recent years, will accompany the sound of chomping corn.
Debbie Weaver, in her second year as Corn Festival Committee chairwoman, says she's loved the festival for many years, but that her perspective changed after becoming involved as an organizer five years ago.
"I always liked the crafts and the food and the people," Weaver says. "To buy new items or try new foods always attracted me. Now that I'm involved, it's different. I get there at 4 a.m. and the street is bare. By 7 o'clock, things are unfolding, it's amazing. To see it all unfold is my favorite thing now."
Thirty-nine food vendors, offering treats as divergent as soul food, Asian fusion and ice cream, circle a food court on North Earl Street and sprinkle the curbside along both ends of King Street.
Needless to say, corn on the cob and chicken corn soup are continuing staples.
Live music is offered throughout the day at three locations — the main stage, the gazebo and an improvised stage just off the 100 block of West King Street.
Free parking is offered at the Shippensburg Community Fairgrounds on Possom Hollow Road, with a shuttle bus providing transport to the festival.