Hog Day Pig Hamilton

Hamilton, the official Hog Day pig, was painted by Efland resident Grace Brantley.


Finally, after two years of cancellations because of the pandemic and its restrictions, the Hog Day Festival is ready to run wild through the streets of downtown Hillsborough. Started in 1983, the festival is the oldest continuing barbecue festival in North Carolina. Because the event received sponsorships that were then donated to local charities, Hog Day’s run is considered intact. 

This year, for the first time in its history, the festival will be part of the Whole Hog Barbecue Series as a qualifying event for the state championship, which is sanctioned by the North Carolina Pork Council. Despite this important addition, festival organizers say the strength of Hog Day is in its ability to stay true to its original goals of being a family-oriented event.

“I think part of the thing is, people that are new to the area have heard about it, and heard the nostalgia about it, or heard about the fun time,” said Craig Lloyd, who is the primary organizer and booster of Hog Day, and has in some fashion been involved with the festival each year.  “We’re an old, southern festival, and we strive to keep it like it started. The people that have been residents here for generations remember the Hog Days of the past, and we’re trying to bring back memories of that as well.”

Lloyd said often the Friday night for Hog Day takes on a family reunion feel, with gatherings of people who have participated over the years.

With Covid halting the 2020 and 2021 versions of Hog Day — and with inconsistencies prior to that — one might think organizers would be out of practice. But Lloyd said the Orange County Optimists Club, which has handled the festival over the past few years, is ready to welcome vendors, entertainers, and crowds of festival-goers.

“Basically, festivals and events like this are all unique,” he said. “But, I tell people it’s kind of like a car: They come in different shapes and different models but you lift the hood up and they all pretty much run the same. We’ve been doing this for a number of years we’ve got a core volunteer base.” 

Lloyd credits Al Hartkoph, who is this year’s Hog Day chair, with much of the efforts to shore up volunteers for the festival, which is operated solely by volunteers, many including entire families, church groups, and other organizations. Groups that help with putting on Hog Day benefit by receiving donations from festival proceeds.

“In past years, we’ve been proactive in going out and recruiting teams and recruiting volunteers and recruiting sponsors,” Lloyd said. “This year, of all the years I have been involved with Hog Day, we’ve had more people — just an outpouring of people — who want to help. It’s amazing, just the volunteer effort. We literally opened volunteer registration, probably less than a week ago, and we have had a flood of organizations, individuals, families, that have all come out.” 

There has also been an increase in the sponsorships, with Piedmont Electric Cooperative stepping up as the title sponsor.

Becoming a qualifying event on the Whole Hog Barbecue circuit has helped boost registration by pit masters and cooks. Past participants in the barbecue will again be part of Hog Day, but there will also be a number of new teams firing up in downtown Hillsborough. So much so that Lloyd said organizers had to cut off the teams it could accommodate. Organizers have seen a rise in the number of vendors vying for spots to entertain or sell crafts. 

As in past years, the Hog Day 5K will be run Saturday morning, and the Hog Day Classic Car Show will also have an early Saturday start. There will be an area devoted to kids activities and entertainment. 

The always-popular Pigs On Parade will return, and this year’s official pig sculpture — named Hamilton — is both impressive in size and artistic quality. Grace Brantley, who is originally from the Philippines, but now lives in Efland, was encouraged by Lloyd to decorate the more-than-5-foot-long pig statue.

“It was a little bit overwhelming when I saw it because it was almost taller than me,” said Brantley, who attends church with Lloyd. 

She painted a detailed setting of downtown Hillsborough and other nearby scenes, complete with the old Orange County Courthouse clock tower, the Eno River, shops along Churton Street, and the silos from the Barn At Lloyd’s Dairy.

“It’s a dairy farm, so I put some cows in there,” Brantley said. “And cardinals, fruits, and vegetables. It’s what people like, so I just throw it in.”

Brantley, who normally does portraits and works with pastels, said she used acrylic paints for the pig project. Along with having the distinction of creating a gorgeous work of art to welcome Hog Day festival-goers, she will have a booth at the event where she will be displaying and selling her artwork.

For complete Hog Day schedules, go to www.hogday.org.