It takes work and perhaps a dash of eccentricity to be named “One of the 9 Oddest Festivals in Alabama.”

The Athens Grease Festival fits that description to a T – as in T for toga. The Spirit of Athens, a Main Street organization, hosts the festival in historic downtown Athens to celebrate the Greek origin of the city’s name and all things fried while advising eventgoers to eat responsibly the other 364 days of the year.

The fundraiser supports SOA’s financial investment in downtown improvement projects, such as enhanced lighting and electrical support for vendors and concerts.

“I would say in Athens we have people with more than just a dash of eccentricity. They have a pretty good dose,” Mayor Ronnie Marks said. “When the idea was first tossed out in 2012 to wear togas on The Square and celebrate fried foods, there were probably some skeptics, but a group of mostly women got together and figured out a way to make it happen and make it successful.”

The fourth annual festival (the 2015 festival was rescheduled for 2016) will be June 11 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Marks has signed a proclamation declaring June 5-11 as Greek Week in Athens to encourage support of the “quirky fun family event.” He signed the proclamation at Isom’s Orchard among grape vines with Athena-Grease Goddess and her court decked out in their togas.

This year’s Athena is Marlene Isom, and her court is other women who were nominated for the award for their volunteer efforts in enhancing the quality of life in Athens. Isom has held Dinner in the Orchard events that have benefited the local hospital, local library and High Cotton Arts, a nonprofit art incubator. She also oversaw the Threads of Honor quilting project that raised about $40,000 for the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives building expansion project.

Spirit of Athens Director Dana Hickman suggested this year the Athena-Grease Goddess honor should also include the nominees who would then become Athena’s court. Hickman said that would give recognition to all the women nominated by the community.

The court is comprised of Karen Middleton, Deborah Gill, Martha Jo Leonard, Olivia Carter, Trisha Black and Diane Lehr. These ladies volunteer with activities ranging from church to art to youth programs to fundraising.

Athena and her court will be honored during opening ceremonies at 11:30 a.m. with a parade featuring the Cool Bone Brass Band. Marks said Athens is indebted to these women who have seen a need and have given of their time and talents to address it.

“It is remarkable when you look at the contributions Marlene and these other women have made because they love this community and they have the gumption to take action,” Marks said.

Grease Festival events

During Greek Week, businesses, churches and other groups can get involved by hosting their own mini-toga parties and sharing their photos on social media and include #TogaTweets or they can email them to hhollman@athensal.us. Limestone Health Facility plans to host a toga contest and toga party on June 9 for its residents. The facility’s Activity Director Mary Nelle Clem said the party will include fried pickles, fried cheese and fried Oreos.

The Athens Grease Festival will give Southern food lovers the opportunity to taste fried dishes ranging from fried deviled eggs to fried shrimp puppies to fried alligator. Food isn’t the only attraction, however. There will be musical entertainment including Lillian Glanton and The Elk River Boys, Kush and Microwave Dave and the Nukes.

Athens Arts League will have artists painting in togas outside of High Cotton Arts just east of the festival grounds on Washington Street. Athens Arts League also is sponsoring a tent for the Kids Zone, which will have various activities.

There will be contests such as a Frozen Turkey Toss, Dub’s Burger Eating Contest and Toga Contest. The mechanical bull will also be back for children and adults who want to attempt to ride 8 seconds while wearing a toga.

SOA organizers are debuting new decorations this year. Athens High School arts teacher Tavia Slaton and her students have created an Athena and Trojan horse and repurposed a homecoming float’s golden eagle. The students also painted and touched up Greek columns used in previous festivals.

Outrageous food contest

Do you have an outrageous food recipe that actually tastes pretty good? If so, you're invited to participate in the Most Outrageous Food Contest, which will again be featured at the festival.

The winner of the contest, sponsored by The News Courier, will receive a $50 gift card and have his or her recipe printed in The News Courier's annual “Seasons Eating” publication.

“The idea is just to submit the most outrageous food, whether a dessert, vegetable or just an old family recipe,” said Robbin Hines, chairperson for this year's festival. “It may be crazy, but it must taste really good.”

Despite the nature of the festival, the dishes also don't have to be fried. A panel of judges will pick the winner, but the ingredients of each dish must be disclosed to prevent food allergies.

The cost to participate is $5, but entrants will be granted free admission to the festival. Interested parties should preregister for the contest by emailing Hines at robinhines@live.com and put “Most Outrageous Food Contest” in the subject line.

On the day of the festival, entrants should bring their prepared dish to the Grease Festival information booth. They will then be directed to the Most Outrageous Food Contest tent.

Grease facts

Cost for the festival is $5 for adults, $4 for children ages 3-12 and 2 and younger free. Wear a toga and get $1 off admission. For more information and updates, go to www.athensgreasefestival.com.

And did you know?

• Keep Athens-Limestone Beautiful recycles the cooking grease used by vendors;

• Athens Saturday Market will move to The Square for the festival and operate on Jefferson Street from 8 a.m. to noon;

• You can try to win free tickets by going on Facebook to “Athens Grease Festival” and by listening to Kix 96;

• Don’t have a sheet or table cloth to make a toga? Buy a Toga Pack online through Eventbrite through June 9 and pick up your festival shirt, toga and ticket at the Spirit of Athens office during Greek Week.



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