Friday, August 1, 2014

Attempting to set World Record

Aug. 1, 2014
Holly Hollman

Toga! Toga! Toga!

Athens Grease Festival attempting to set “Largest Toga Party” record

Athens Grease Festival organizers are frying up a batch of fun for this year’s third annual event, and the fun may put downtown Athens on the menu to make history.

In June, the Guinness Book of World Records approved a “Largest Toga Party” attempt by the Athens Grease Festival on Sept. 27.

“Our festival draws up to 5,000 people, so if everyone would wear a white toga, Athens could set this world record,” Spirit of Athens Director Trisha Black said. 

According to Guinness, Australia currently is home to the record with 3,700 toga wearing participants. The University of Queensland Union and Queensland University of Technology Guild set that record on Feb. 24, 2012.

To collect verification, festival organizers will institute a counting system, such as numbered wrist bands.  Organizers will also take group photos and time stamped video. Witness statements, such as statements from the Athens Police Department regarding attendance numbers, can also be submitted.

A designated time will be set for the photo and video. Organizers still are discussing when to schedule it. The East Limestone March Band will perform during the record attempt and be donned in togas.

“This is already a fun-filled festival with activities like seeing how far competitors can toss a frozen turkey and how people accessorize their togas such as going country with boots and cowboys hats or Southern gentleman with bow ties,” said Festival Chairwoman Betsy Hyman. “Adding a world record attempt for largest toga party is like discovering the last fried pie after Sunday dinner at your grandmother’s.”

The Spirit of Athens hosted the first Athens Grease Festival in 2012 as a celebration of all things fried and the Greek origin of the city’s name. The Limestone County Courthouse with its Greek revival architecture and the historic Square serve as the backdrop for this one day of the year when food lovers can splurge.

“As we try to tell everyone, eat responsibly the other 364 days of the year,” Hyman said. “It’s OK to splurge occasionally and enjoy the art of Southern cooking.”

Specifications for setting Guinness Book of World Record
● All participants must wear their own toga costume and cannot be shared between two people.
● A toga can be made by a long sheet or any other material than can form a toga.
● The toga costume must be white in color.
● All participants must be in position simultaneously and remain so for a minimum of five minutes.

Toga Tidbits on How to Attend the Festival
Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014
11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The Square in Athens
$5 for adults, $3 for children ages 3-12, free for those 2 and younger. $1 off admission for toga wearers.
Vendors will be selling food and drinks.
Enjoy food, music, children’s art activities, contests, a mechanical bull and more

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Applications Available Online

All applications will be available for online registration.  Here's the link to the food vendor application.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rick Bragg to dish on Southern foods at Athens Grease Festival

by Holly Hollman, Athens Grease Festival Publicity Chair

It’s not just enough to taste fried Southern foods at a festival with the name “Grease” in it. As Southerners, we have to talk about it, too.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Rick Bragg will discuss the culture of Southern foods and cooking during the second annual Athens Grease Festival on Sept. 28. Bragg authored two best-selling memoirs, “All Over But the Shoutin’” and “Ava’s Man.”

“Southern recipes from our grandmothers and mothers are cherished family heirlooms,” said Festival Chairwoman Betsy Hyman. “How many of us have in our own kitchens as many cook books as other type of books elsewhere in the house? We love to cook and cook well, and having an author like Rick Bragg talk about the importance of cooking to Southerners is as perfect a fit to our festival as batter is on catfish.”

Bragg has compared writing with cooking.

“And writer guys, we don’t get to have writers block,” Bragg wrote. “That’s like a chef sayin’ ‘I don’t feel like cookin’ them taters.’”

Bragg currently is a writing professor at the University of Alabama’s journalism program in its College of Communications and Information Sciences. He also writes a column for “Southern Living.”

Bragg will speak at the Athens State University Center for Lifelong Learning at 5 p.m. A large screen will live stream the presentation for those whose seats are not in the immediate event area. Festival admission is required. Because seating is limited to 200 people, those who plan to attend Bragg’s presentation will have to obtain a free ticket and present it at the door for admission.

These tickets are limited to four per person. The tickets will be available for pickup while they last on Sept. 20 from 8 a.m. to noon, Sept. 24 from 3-6 p.m. and on Sept. 25 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Center for Lifelong Learning on Marion Street in downtown Athens. Tickets also will be available as long as supplies last from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 24, 25, 26 and 27 at City Hall at 1806 Wilkinson Street on the second floor. Tickets will not be held for individuals. Tickets will be distributed first come, first serve.

Seating will begin at 4 p.m. prior to Bragg’s 5 p.m. appearance. His books will be for sale in the Athens Shop at the Center for Lifelong Learning.

For information on Rick Bragg tickets, call the Center for Lifelong Learning at 256-233-8260 for a recording on how to get tickets and to find out when tickets are no longer available.

The Athens Grease Festival is a celebration of all things fried and the Greek origin of the city’s name. It is hosted by the Spirit of Athens and sponsored in part by The News-Courier and Keep Athens-Limestone Beautiful.

The festival hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Events will be on The Square in downtown Athens. Vendors will sell fried foods and crafts. There will be children’s activities, music and Olympian style contests and events with a Southern twist such as an opening ceremony with the to-be-named Athena-Grease Goddess, frozen turkey toss and Dub’s Burgers Eating Contest.

Cost is $5 for adults, $4 for those ages 3 to 12 and free for those 2 and younger. Wear a toga and get $1 off admission.

To register for the Toga Fun Run or other contests, and for more information, go to

Friday, September 6, 2013

Let's Have the World's Biggest Toga Party!

by Pam Hartmann

To do that, we need to get as many Grease Festival-Goers dressed in Togas as possible.   Let's face it, wearing Togas is FUN and it's hard to not have a good time when you're wearing one!  To that end, Spirit of Athens will have available Toga-to-Go kits for attendees that wander in wearing civilian clothes, look around and start hankering for their very own toga!  We need your help to make this happen.  Just  clean out all that old fabric you have laying around and donate it to the cause- any color/pattern will work.  We could also use any rope belts yardage you happen to have.  With your help, we CAN have the World's Biggest Toga Party!

Participants of the 2012 Toga Contest

A few tips to keep in mind when digging through your old fabric:
No small scraps, please- each toga will need 3.5 - 4 yards fabric for adult sizes and 2 - 2.5 for child sizes.

Any color / pattern is welcome, but be practical- no sheers, velvets... Cotton and cotton blends will work best.  Think-  sheet!

If you have flat sheets (new) you would like to donate, that will work, too. Any type of  decorative rope that can be used as a belt would also be welcome as well as old broaches, or pins.

Please drop off at U.G. White General Mercantile at 101 North Jefferson Street in downtown Athens.  Store hours are Monday-Wednesday 9am-6pm & Thursday-Saturday 9am-8pm.  For more information, call 315-561-9932.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Nominate a Limestone County Lady to be Athena of the 2013 Athens Grease Festival

by Holly Hollman

Athena of Greece was known as a wise goddess who loved and protected the City of Athens, could be a warrior, had a creative side and had interest in the arts, crafts and agriculture. 
The Spirit of Athens is looking for the Athens, Alabama, version.

For SOA’s second annual Athens Grease Festival, organizers will honor the first Athena – Grease Goddess.

“My idea was a woman who has similar qualities as the Greek Athena, a woman who protects our community because she has a willingness to give back to the City of Athens,” said Athens Grease Festival Publicity Chairwoman Holly Hollman.

Organizers are looking for a Limestone County woman who is involved in the community, such as volunteering within the city through non-profit organizations, serving on city boards, supporting environmental projects, working with youth or supporting the arts.

“And since this festival is about honoring how our Southern mothers and grandmothers made cooking an art form, our Athena – Grease Goddess should be a good cook,” said Festival Chairwoman Betsy Hyman.

The Athens Grease Festival is a celebration of all things fried and the Greek origin of the city’s name. Last year, an estimated 4,500 attended, many wearing togas with cowboy boots and hats. This year the event is Sept. 28 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on The Square. There will be a frozen turkey toss, fried food contest, the Dub’s Burgers Eating Contest, toga contest, music, children’s games and the Toga Run.

Athena – Grease Goddess will lead the opening ceremony. She will oversee the festivities from her royal seat at the top of the Limestone County Courthouse steps. Festival organizers will provide her with a toga, torch and for a Southern touch, a beauty queen sash made from burlap.

To nominate a Limestone County woman for Athena – Grease Goddess, go online Forms also will be available at City Hall at 1806 Wilkinson Street and at U.G. White Hardware on The Square. Deadline for submissions is Sept. 16 at 4:30 p.m.

The festival’s major sponsors will choose the winner, whose identity will be revealed prior to the festival.

It's hard to believe that we are only 23 days until the 2nd Annual Athens Grease Festival.  Mark your calendars for September 28.  Gates open at 11 AM and close at 9 PM.  Make plans to join us!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grease is lighting up The Square

by Holly Hollman

Grease is turning the lights back on for The Square.

The Spirit of Athens Board has voted to use money raised at the festival to install LED lights on store fronts on The Square. The board’s long-range plan is to install LED lights to outline the top of all buildings on The Square and leading up to The Square to create a city skyline. The entire project is estimated to cost $30,000.

This board voted to spend up to $7,000 on this first phase.

“We hope to have the lights installed in time for the holidays,” said Spirit of Athens Director Trisha Black. “We all remember how The Square used to look lit up for Christmas, but then those lights wore out, and we’ve been working to replace them with more energy efficient lights that have a longer lifespan.”

Board President Derrick Young said he would like to see the downtown area lit up not only at Christmas time.

“I say use them all the time because that makes downtown look lively,” Young said.

The Athens Grease Festival was held the last Saturday in September and drew an estimated 4,500 people to The Square. That’s based on tickets sold to adults, an estimate on the number of children who attended and the number of vendors. After expenses, the festival generated $9,500.

“The first year you do a festival like this, you are usually lucky if you break even or if you don’t lose money,” Young said. “We made nearly $10,000. That’s amazing, especially since the work on the festival really was done in a short amount of time.”

Plans for the festival to celebrate all things fried and the Greek origin of the city’s name began in April. The plan was the result of a city branding campaign when the branding consultants fell in love with the city’s Greek Revival architecture and food and submitted an Athens Grease Festival logo.

The festival drew the attention of Alabama Public Radio, which led to a visit by University of Alabama at Birmingham assistant professor of nutrition sciences, Beth Kitchin. She has a blog called “The Kitchin sink,” and APR wanted to interview her about Alabama’s obesity rate.

“But this was no typical media request on the rising obesity rate.  This was a story on the inaugural Athens Grease Festival in Athens,” Kitchin wrote in her blog. “The festival has much going for it: a clever geographic play on words, a charming Mayberry-like downtown square with plenty of municipal buildings sporting Greek columns in ode to its ancient Mediterranean namesake, Alabama “Athenians” dressed in togas, and of course, lots of fried foods.  Who could resist?”

Kitchin particularly enjoyed the fried green tomatoes and wrote that eating healthy doesn’t mean avoiding those foods you love. She recommends the 80/20 rule of eating healthy food 80 percent of the time.

Black said based on public’s response to the festival and the money generated, SOA volunteers have decided to hold it again in 2013 on the last Saturday in September.