We turned into the parking lot and were greeted by a warning sign: "Do not leave keys in ignition/General Parking." We got out and paid our $5 admission. The festival was being held in a converted baseball stadium. In the nearest outfield, carnival rides and ticket booths surrounded a giant, inflatable Titanic, half sunk in the grass. Kids clambered up its rubber slope, looked down fearfully and slid screaming to their plushy end. At home plate, a DJ from the local oldies station told jokes to a stone-faced audience.
We took a seat near the pitcher's mound. Beside us, a lady in sunglasses that resembled 3D video-game goggles sat crumpled in a lawn chair under a tilted umbrella.
The first event was the whistlin' competition. A man named Shorty won it, which, as I understand, happens every year. We also sat through the conch-blowin', junior hollerin', and the ladies hollerin' competitions. But it was the men's competition, one woman told me, that was the real event.
As you probably know, hollerin' is like yelling in beautiful Morse Code. One hollers when one wants to communicate across long distances without a telephone. For example, there is the "I need help" holler ("Wop Woo!"), the "I'm awake and excited" holler (WA-Oh-Wee!") , and the "I'm roundin' the bend, better get ready for our date" holler ("A E O E!" repeated in staccato).
At 6:15 p.m., the men's competition began. The first contestant was an unshaven 30-year-old who chain-smoked and wore a Donald Duck outfit. He was followed by an elderly gentleman from Charlotte who showed us his "come home pigs" holler. There was also a young guy from Chapel Hill who quoted the "Wassup!" Budweiser commercial, a Michigander who made carpetbagger jokes during his military-hollers sketch, a retired prison guard who hollered at inmates, and a large man who demonstrated how he could holler while inhaling and exhaling.
Perhaps the strangest contestant of all was a Duke graduate from New Jersey. With remarkable earnestness, he confessed that he got into hollerin' after purchasing and enjoying the Hollerin' CD. His friends cheered him on hysterically. Just beyond third base, a group of Confederate Reenactors and a caged camel watched him intently.