Texans will use just about any excuse to have a party. There’s the Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater, the Great Texas Mosquito Festival in Clute, and in Jacksonville, the city hosts a party for none other than the humble tomato. In Gilmer, the yam is the belle of the ball at the annual East Texas Yamboree.
Yams, not to be confused with sweet potatoes, are similar in shape but not taste. In Texas, yams and sweet potatoes have come to be synonymous and taste pretty good baked into a pie.
The East Texas Yamboree celebrates the yam’s rich heritage by hosting one of the longest running festivals in Texas. This year marks the 77th time folks have flocked to celebrate the venerable tuber.
More than 100,000 people flock to downtown Gilmer each year to visit the carnival, taste the sweet potato pie, and vie for a chance to see the Yam Queen. This year’s event is set for October 15 through 18.
The Queen’s Parade is a must-see event at the Yamboree. Held on Saturday morning, this parade isn’t your typical Texas parade full of horses, little kids, and candy flinging. Class is the name of the game at the Queen’s Parade. Throwing of candy is prohibited, horses and livestock are persona non grata, and small children can’t walk the parade route. What you will see at the Queen’s Parade is a long line of royal Queen candidates, marching bands from every school in the area, and classic cars and trucks shined to the hilt.
The biggest and best floats are reserved for the Queen and her court. These floats are prepared months in advance, and every care is taken to ensure the royal court looks the part. Each Queen candidate has her own float, some with steps leading up to a throne fit for a true queen. Some candidates have their own court made up of tiny princesses bedecked in sequins, beads, glitter, and glamor. You never know what you’ll see, as evidenced by last year’s parade, which featured floats with spinning Faberge eggs, live doves, and a Queen’s train that extended the entire length of her float in a sea of silver satin and intricate beading.
After the last band marches away and the final twirler has caught her baton, the carnival rides begin to spin and run all through the night. Not to be outdone by carnivals featuring only rides and games, the Yamboree carnival also features human oddities, such as the world’s smallest woman, and the woman with a human head and snake body. Visitors even have a chance to view Tiny Tim, the world’s smallest horse. No pictures are allowed with these special attractions, so viewing is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
If you leave downtown hungry, it’s not for lack of food options. In addition to fair staples such a funnel cakes and fresh-squeezed lemonade, there are plenty of booths offering the Yamboree favorite, sweet potato pie.
Once you’ve had your fill of spinning rides, cotton candy, corn dogs, and the peculiarities of the human body, it’s time to dance the night away at the barn dance.
As with any festival worth its salt, there’s also a livestock show, arts and crafts for sale, art and photography exhibits, and lots of peoplewatching to be had. For more information, visit www.yamboree.com.
*Recipe courtesy of www.yamboree.com.