Updated Wed, Sep 11, 2013 4:50 pm
It's been called everything from Asimina triloba to a West Virginia banana, but for hundreds of Lake Snowden-bound festivalgoers, the pawpaw is synonymous with the word "fun."
Now in its 15th year, The Ohio Pawpaw Festival returns this weekend to Albany, Ohio, with live music, food, arts and crafts, contests, sustainable-living workshops and kids' activities.
The fest was created in 1999 by Integration Acres' Chris Chmiel as a way to celebrate one of America's largest native tree fruits, which is plentiful in Southeast Ohio and noted for its diverse culinary uses and nutritional properties.
The pawpaw has gained notoriety over the past decade. It became Ohio's native state fruit in 2009, thanks to the efforts of Chmiel and former Ohio State Senator Jimmy Stewart.
The annual festival has also grown in stature. What started out as a single-day gathering at the Albany Riding Stables eventually expanded to a three-day event at Lake Snowden, garnering national attention along the way. However, Chmiel hasn't forgotten the festival's roots.
"It started as an Albany-based thing and I'd like to keep Albany folks engaged," he said. "We're working with the Albany Fairgrounds this year on using their space for parking and shuttle service. I'd love to see the festival continue on its path of slow, steady growth."
The event's growing popularity has presented a few challenges, namely parking--or the lack thereof--at Lake Snowden. Chmiel is hoping to alleviate the problem by expanding last year's free shuttle service.
"We've added some extra stops," he confirmed. "There'll be pick-up points at Ohio University's Baker Center and at the Athens Community Center. And in an effort to ease parking congestion at Lake Snowden and traffic on U.S. 50, we're encouraging folks to park at the Albany Fairgrounds and take the shuttle from there. So there will be two buses--one running from Athens and one from Albany."
In addition to perennial crowd favorites like the pawpaw eating contest, Paws at the Pawpaw and pawpaw cooking workshops, several new attractions have been added this year, according to Chmiel.
"The biggest new thing is probably the Pawpaw Gauntlet obstacle race course," he said. "It's sort of modeled after a Warrior Dash-type of thing, but Solid Ground Farm/Rising Appalachian Warriors and On the Ball Fitness will make this event uniquely 'pawpaw.' The Elm Golf Course is also hosting the first ever Pawpaw Golf Tournament on Saturday, with all those proceeds benefiting the PawPaw Foundation."
Along with live entertainment (see schedule below), the beer tent has always been a big draw, and fest organizers tried to kick it up a notch this year.
"We've also got six microbreweries coming...the most ever," said Chmiel. "There should be a style for everyone: Belgian oatmeal rye, a couple wheats, a Saison and a couple of ales, all with plenty of pawpaw pulp, of course."
It's also advisable to come hungry this weekend. Attendees can sample pawpaw dishes at the Pawpaw Tent, or visit 25 local and regional vendors, who will be dishing up everything from Mexican, Middle Eastern, Indian and vegetarian fare to festival/fair food staples such as cotton candy and french fries.
And after you've finished your meal, Rural Action will be on hand to help you clean up the mess, according to Chmiel.
"We're excited to partner with the Zero Waste Initiative," he said. "Rural Action will be on site with a state-of-the-art recycling sorting machine, the food vendors are using compostable tableware, and we'll be diverting food scraps for composting."
Festival hours are 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $10 for a one-day pass, $20 for a weekend pass and children under 12 are admitted free.
For more information about the Ohio Pawpaw Festival, including directions and camping information, visit www.ohiopawpawfest.com.
Main Stage schedule
Friday, Sept. 13
Stoned & Beautiful 7:30-8:30 p.m.
Nick Tolford & Company 9-10:15 p.m.
Jones for Revival 10:45 p.m.-12 a.m.
Saturday, Sept. 14
John Healy 10:30-11:15 a.m.
Steve Free 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Leah Nairn & The Posers 1-2 p.m.
Angela Perley 2:30-3:30 p.m.
JP & The Chatfield Boys 4-5 p.m.
Pawpaw Eating Contest 5-5:30 p.m.
Qiet 5:35-6:35 p.m.
Hey Mavis 7:05-8:15 p.m.
Southwork 8:45-10 p.m.
Sassafraz 10:30 p.m.-12 a.m.
Sunday, Sept. 15
The Paranormals 10-11 a.m.
Steve Zarate 11-11:50 a.m.
Greg Bikowski 12-12:40 p.m.
Birds of Chicago 1-2 p.m.
Word of Mouth Jazz Band 2:15-4 p.m.
Beer Tent Stage schedule
Friday, Sept. 13
Allen Strong 5:30-6 p.m.
Acarya 7-7:30 p.m.
Wormz & The Decomposers 8:30-9 p.m.
Acarya 10:15-10:45 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 14
Joey Hebdo & His Drum 12:30-1 p.m.
Chris Keesey 2-2:30 p.m.
Molly Jo Stanley 3:30-4 p.m.
Michelle McGrath with The Paranormals 6:35-7:05 p.m.
Dan Dougan and Phunky Phil 8:15-8:45 p.m.
Brian Alton 10-10:30 p.m.
The Dirty Birds 12 a.m.-close
Slideshow: 2012 Ohio Pawpaw Festival
Colleen Carow and Jeff Redefer
Paws at the Pawpaw Dog Park
Dog obedience workshop
Pawpaw plant sale
Zach Parkman & The Damaged Goods
Hocking Woods Nature Center Snake Tent
Southeast Ohio Astronomical Society
Horse-drawn wagon rides
Growing Nuts in Perennial Polycultures workshop with Kurt Belser