HEBRON – For a 67-year-old retired government worker, Celeste Crowley looks like one unlikely redneck.
Her red pedal-pusher pants match her checkered blouse. Gray Chuck Taylor sneakers are virtually unmolested by mud and muck. Her baseball cap, lovingly adorned with sea treasures and moss, screams Sunday afternoon suburban crafting circle.
Yet she was one in a faithful crowd of hundreds who turned out for the third annual version of what used to be called the Redneck Olympic Games, a festival of mud, music and merriment held in a former gravel pit in Hebron.
“Four-wheelin’ is the big thing,” said Crowley, of Durham, explaining how she has spent her free time since retiring from the Department of Health and Human Services in 2010.
“I’ve always wanted to come see it,” she said of the event. “I’m always looking for new experiences. Plus, they serve beer.”
Hosted every year on the property of Harold Brooks, a general contractor, the three-day extravaganza is a celebration of the redneck lifestyle, one that embodies self-reliance, simplicity and the outdoors.
Everywhere on Brooks’ expansive property, people pitched tents, parked campers and rolled around in every shape and size of four-wheel-drive vehicle imaginable.
A main stage provided nightly musical entertainment, and for most of the participants, a reason to cut loose without worry.
Brooks, who said he usually loses money on the event, is glad to give people an opportunity to enjoy themselves on their terms.
“I appreciate the individual,” said Brooks. “For me this festival is about the people. It’s for them to come out and relieve some stress.”
So what is a “redneck,” anyway?
“It’s not a demographic. It’s not an insult,” Brooks said. “Its someone who works hard. (This weekend) is like what a fair would have been years ago, or a church day, except with a little bit of beer, you know?”
Brooks caught the ire of the International Olympic Committee last year, when it insisted he remove the word “Olympics” from his event. So Brooks, eternally distrustful of large corporate interests, changed the name, officially, to the Redneck (Blank) Games.
It is characteristic of the entire event’s ethos. Without the help or supervision of authorities, attendees make the most of their circumstances.
If it rains, they have fun. If the sun shines, they have fun.
Anna Gilbert, 30, of Bowdoin said she uses the event as an escape from her button-down office job as a project manager. Gilbert said she enjoys the familiar atmosphere, which reminds her of friends and family while growing up.
“I love stuff like this, but it conflicts with my work persona,” said Gilbert, who sports a full-length back tattoo of a burning Phoenix, a fact that her co-workers would be shocked to find out. “They wouldn’t believe it.”
The actual redneck games are only a minor portion of the weekend.
For three hours, volunteers are selected from a bucket of names to toss toilet seats like they are horseshoes, carry brimming beers through obstacles courses, race while toting greased watermelons, and bob for pickled pig’s feet.
Winners take home bragging rights, and not much else.
But this year there was a film crew — a production team from the History Channel that chronicled the festivities.
Following the games on the main stage, a reverend known only as “Yummy” married off a lucky couple while the television cameras rolled.
The betrothed — Lucretia Blais and Jeff Gould — rode in on a mud-covered monster truck, beer cans rattling behind them. An Elvis impersonator serenaded the couple, and before an enthusiastic crowd, they exchanged vows.
“I forgot the Bible,” said the Rev. Yummy. “So we’ll have to wing this a little bit.”
The bride and groom grinned, embraced.
With the roar of an angry American V8 motor, the pair rode into the sunset, the party behind them only beginning.
Matt Byrne can be reached at 791-6303, or at: