In Atlanta during the fall you could spend every weekend attending a festival in some local neighborhood, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more unusual, crowd-friendly one than the Chomp and Stomp festival, in Cabbagetown this Saturday, November 2. With its offerings of bluegrass music, a chili cookoff judged by celebrity chefs and an eclectic mixture of artists’ booths and food stands, the festival, which will begin with a 5k race, is an ideal way to experience the tiny but vibrant intown community and mingle with residents.
Now in its 11th year, Chomp and Stomp has grown considerably in size and reputation since 2002, when it was launched by Nathan Bolster and fellow Cabbagetown residents and attended by about 900 people. Alicia A. Thompson, who now chairs the Chomp and Stomp committee, estimates that last year’s event drew about 20,000.
The yearly festival has become a major fundraiser for Cabbagetown, one that helps maintain the neighborhood’s parks, green spaces, community center and other facilities. “When people ask me who do you get to plan your festival, I say my neighbors,” Thompson said. “I go and knock on their doors and say, will you do this for me? We’re really proud of that, because we went from needing 20 volunteers to over 300.”
Cabbagetown’s current trendiness is quite a contrast with its original identity as a hardscrabble neighborhood developed for factory workers in 1881. Revitalization began slowly in the late 1970s, when artists and musicians began moving in. Among them were nationally known photographer Raymond Herbert, better known as Panorama Ray, and such local musical trailblazers as Deacon Lunchbox, Benjamin and Smoke, Kelly Hogan, the Chowder Shouters and Cat Power.
Today the creative community remains a driving force behind Chomp and Stomp, and one of the biggest draws is the bluegrass showcase, which honors Cabbagetown’s original residents and their musical traditions. (The legendary country musician Fiddlin’ John Carson was an early Cabbagetown resident.) “The bluegrass music has to do with the people who worked at the mill,” Thompson explained. “They brought it with them and would sit on their porches and play it. So we’re trying to respect that and how Cabbagetown started.”
This year’s festival expands the music portion from three to four concert stages, with such returning local favorites as the Bibb City Ramblers and Frets on Fire. Check the schedule for the complete list.
Cabbagetown is also home to many working artists, such as the members of the cooperative Cabbagetown Clay and Glass works and Susan McCracken, nationally known for her glass paintings and fused-glass artwork. But the artists’ market is open to all makers of arts and crafts. Art for sale this year includes linoleum block prints and painted papier mâché masks by Suzi Linden, photography by James Atticus Ferguson, hand-painted wooden dolls of pop culture figures by Eric Warren, and jewelry by June Shin.
The chili cookoff is a more recent Cabbagetown tradition that began with the first Chomp and Stomp festival. People get an opportunity to sample up to 100 different chilis from individual competitors, as well as entries from at least 23 local restaurants.
The cookoff will be judged by such Atlanta celebrity chefs as Kevin Rathbun; Kevin Ouzts with Spotted Trotter; Jack Sobel from Agave; Whitney Otawka, formerly of Athens’ Farm 255; and Kevin Gillespie, whose “top chef” celebrity status has sometimes created problems. One year, Thompson noted, “He had to get security guards to escort him out.”