This past weekend was proof that our neck of the woods is becoming known for more than beautiful beaches, spring break and cheap warm beer. I had the honor of being a judge at the Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort's 21st annual Gumbo Cookoff & Wingding. The weather was cold, rainy, foggy and dark...perfect gumbo weather. 14 area restaurants and organizations entered the gumbo division, another 8 or 9 entered wings. It was alot of fun and hundreds of people attended, paying up to $25 which went to several charities.
I heard alot of those people taking about going to one of the concerts taking place later that night during the first annual 30-A Songwriter's Festival. This was a 3 day event that began Friday. Some of the performers included Suzanna Hoffs (of The Bangles), Matthew Sweet, John Oates (of Hall & Oates), Shaun Mullins, The Indigo Girls and Chely Wright. This was a unique event that gave folks in this area a chance to hear from artists that rarely (if ever) have played here before.
Also going on this weekend, the officials grand opening of Country Crossing in Dothan. The Attraction featured 3 days and nights of FREE concerts from some pretty big artists. The line-up included Aaron Tippin, John Conlee, Pam Tillis, Joe Nichols, Tracy Lawrence, Bellamy Brothers, John Anderson, Lorrie Morgan, Darryl Worley, The Commodores and an appearance by country legend George Jones (although he didn't perform).
As a teen and a young adult I'd have to drive to Tallahassee or Pensacola to take part in events like this. It's great to see these endeavors taking place (although it would have been great if that hadn't all been on the same weekend). I say all this to make a point. None of these events happened in Bay County. For many years we had amusement parks and other diversions that could occupy tourists' (and locals') time away from the sand and surf. Those are now gone. The only thing left is the sand and surf.
Don't get me wrong. Pier Park is great. The New Year's event is a step in the right direction. So is the Jazz Festival. But it should only be a start. I've heard talk about negotiations for a minor league baseball team. Got to have a stadium first, folks. We need proper venues to hold sporting events and concerts.
The beaches are great. They are the magnet that draws visitors. But it's the other things people do here that make lasting memories. And it's the opportunity for a variety of entertaining experiences that will keep them coming back.