As the leaves begin to turn red and gold deep in the Ozarks, excitement starts to build. Competitors check and double check recipes. Others put the final tweaks on their racing machines. Before long, the aroma of beans and outhouses fill the mountain air — it’s time for the Annual Arkansas Bean Fest and Great Championship Outhouse Races. This fest had GypsyNester written all over it. How could we possibly resist?
The festivities, as with every gathering in Mountain View, Arkansas, begin with live bluegrass and folk music. Impromptu bands spring up all around the town square and play clean as country water. They gather in front of the music store, ice cream parlor and in the town park gazebos. As we wandered among the pickers and grinners, we heard everything from fiddle and banjo to spoon and washtub musicians. The groups ranged from exceptionally good to incredible. No wonder Mountain View is known as “The Folk Music Capital of The World.”
The music continues throughout the weekend, but the big bean-related events kick off with the “Beanie Weenie Dog Show” on Thursday evening. Dogs of all kinds, not just wieners, compete for high Beanfest honors.
Friday, the cooks set up their giant pots for the main event. By the end of the day, each cauldron is filled with water and fifty pounds of dry pinto beans for an overnight soaking. This year that means a total of two thousand pounds of beans went down the gullets of Beanfest revelers.
At the crack of dawn Saturday morning, the fires are lit under the pots and the cooking commences. We were sure to arrive bright and early for the best opportunity to meet the contestants, because by mid-day about forty thousand bean-starved spectators will have descended upon little Mountain View, non-Beanfest population, 3,000.
Beanfest is much more than just cooking up a mess o’ beans, style matters. In addition to the “Best Beans” and the “Best Cornbread” titles, teams decorate their territory, dressing in zany themes to compete for the coveted “Best Cooking Area” award.
We wandered among the cooking crews, chatting about their recipes and getting the scoop on Beanfest legends and lore. Witches, hippies, jailbirds, football fans, grannies, even “Speedy Relief” (aka the Alka Seltzer mascot) all gave their best shot, but our runaway favorites were the hillbillies a la Oh Brother Where Art Thou. They never broke character throughout the day, even when they came up short to the witches in the end. We think there may have been some politicking involved in the judging, but there was no time to investigate, the beans were being served up.
With folks flocking to the winnings booths, our strategy became crowd surge avoidance. We sampled some runner-up concoctions — much easier to get served and still some mighty good bean eatin’. After several samples — all free we should point out — our bellies were bulging and the timing was perfect for a parade of outhouses.
These aren’t your average outhouses, oh no, these are high performance porta-potties. As with the cook-off, style points matter in commode couture. As the entries proceeded past us, it was easy to spot which were serious in the speed competition and which were vying for the coveted “Best Dressed” prize.
Once the competition began, the decorative privies generally fell out in their first heats, but one racer looked viable in both the swiftness and cosmetic departments. Standing upright and looking like the most realistic outdoor facility in the parade, we thought it would be clumsy, but this bad boy was laid on its back for racing and flew down the track with stunning velocity. Some of the sleeker, less authentic outdoor-toilet-looking entrants will have to bring the gas to win this thing. Hope they ate plenty of beans.
Chatting with a few of the teams, we found that there are some rules to restroom road racing. Two “pushers” are allowed to propel the vehicle while one person drives. The participants must be at least fourteen years old and the driver must weigh in at hundred pounds or more. This restriction means that most of the drivers are girls, which adds a fun teenage social aspect to the event. After seeing the pushers sprinting down the track, it became obvious that this is a sport for the young.
Hard fought heats were run in double elimination brackets until the field had been pared down to the final two high speed lavatories. Whooping it up wildly, we were thrilled when our favorite team crossed the finish line ahead of their close rival. They had been happy to fill us in earlier on the intricacies of outhouse racing, something they knew a thing or two about as defending champions, and had a spectacular collective sense of humor. That’s something to cheer about.
With the gold, silver and bronze toilet seats awarded, most of the crowd headed over to the courthouse lawn to watch the talent contest. We followed along but this version of Ozark Idol, while featuring some very entertaining acts, seemed a bit anticlimactic after our non-stop legume filled day.
Digesting our Beanfest experience became a more pressing issue.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com