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Ham & Yam Festival to celebrate 35 years

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SMITHFIELD — Saturday’s 35th annual Ham & Yam Festival stands out among other community festivals because of its food.

“When some of our food vendors started talking about the ham and yam foods they planned to sell, I was pretty skeptical of things like sweet potato smoothies, sweet potato lemonade, sweet potato funnel cakes with ham toppings and country ham pimento cheese,” said Sarah Edwards, executive director of the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp. “Everything has been really tasty, and we hear from a lot of people who come especially for the food.”

Edwards said the festival has grown over the years, with new components being added.

“In the past five years or so, we’ve made a big push for the festival to include more foods that feature country ham and sweet potatoes, so you’ll find a lot of great foods that you can’t really get elsewhere at the festival,” said Edwards. “Things like sweet potato cheesecake pie and the Kiwanis Club of Smithfield’s country ham biscuits.”

The festival runs from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday in downtown Smithfield. Attendance for the annual festival averages 20,000 to 25,000 people.

Activities include pig races, inflatables, vendors and entertainment.

“As long as there’s good weather, we should have a good crowd,” said Edwards. “There are a lot of people who are very excited to see The Original Drifters live.”

With roots in doo wop, soul and R&B, The Drifters launched their career more than 50 years ago. Now performing as The Original Drifters, the group’s current lineup consists of original member Bill Pinkney and bandmates Chuck Cockerham and Richard Knight Dunbar, as well as Russell Henry and Roger Whitehead. Among the band’s most popular hits are “This Magic Moment,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “Up on the Roof,” “On Broadway” and “Under the Boardwalk.”

The free Original Drifters concert is at 8 p.m.

Through the years, the Ham & Yam Festival’s headliners have included Eddie Money, The Marshall Tucker Band and Molly Hatchet.

“Something new that we’re adding this year is a colonial quarter, which will give attendees an opportunity to learn about what life would’ve been like for some of Smithfield’s earliest residents,” said Edwards. “The town was founded in 1777, so we have almost 250 years of history. Camp Flintlock will be setting up a tent at Town Commons beside the Neuse River where they’ll have quill and ink demonstrations, an exhibit, colonial-era music, tomahawk throwing, and musket and cannon demonstrations. It should be a fun and engaging for people of all ages to connect with our town’s past.”

The Smithfield-Selma High School Naval Junior ROTC cadets volunteer all day and the town of Smithfield starts working to prepare for Ham & Yam in mid-March.

“There’s so much that goes into an event like this that attendees don’t see,” said Edwards. “In so many ways for the town, it’s all hands on deck, and we get assistance from literally every one of the town’s departments.”

The Ham & Yam Festival costs the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp. $45,000 to put on. It’s funded through sponsorships, vendor fees, merchandise sales, a grant through the Johnston County Visitors Bureau and funds available through the Smithfield Marketing Committee, which is funded by the occupancy tax at Smithfield hotels.

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