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John Roger Simon Sorghum Festival – West Portsmouth, Ohio

The John Roger Smith Sorghum Festival allows visitors to tour the 5th generation French homestead while enjoying Appalachian folk music, food and heritage crafts. Sorghum syrup is also made during the festival, which visitors can purchase along with other sorghum food products.

2024 DATE: September 28-29, 2024
Location: 8721 Careys Run Pond Creek Road
West Portsmouth, OH 45663
Website: https://www.arcofappalachia.org/simonsorghumfestival

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This post documents my experience on October 7, 2023.

A Little Festival Backstory

The John Roger Simon Sorghum Festival is an interesting festival. It’s always been one I’ve heard about but would sometimes find difficulty getting all the festival info online.

It almost felt like a secret festival.

Once or twice, which maintaining the festival website, I’ve called the number listed with the previous year’s festival listing and think I actually talked to John Roger Simon himself to get that year’s date or get some update as to whether the festival was going on. Just in the short conversations with him, he gave me the impression that he was a patient, caring individual.

But then, in 2018, after having the festival for 37 years, the festival retired. Simon and many others who worked the festival were getting up in years and it was no longer feasible.

But eventually, Simon, through a mutual friend, talked with Arc of Appalachia, a non-profit group who aimed to preserve wildlands. Simon’s farm was a 5th generation 1864 French homestead with 564 acres and mature white oak woodlands and he was looking for a way to preserve it.

So they worked something out…

…and, in 2022, they brought the festival back in the process.

The Festival

I repeat what I said before, “The John Roger Simon Sorghum Festival is an interesting festival.”

I say this because it is a festival – there are food items for sale, vendors selling products and musicians playing music – but it was driven by education about the Appalachian culture with an overall different feel and approach.

So while you could purchase husk dolls or wreaths, it was more about learning the process of making these things whether by talking to the artist or by witnessing a demonstration or two.

And there were many demonstrators making dancing dolls, caning chairs…

…working on quilts, weaving rugs…

…pressing apples for cider, stirrin’ apple butter,

…blacksmithing, extracting honey…

…and they all did this to share and educate…

…sometimes, possibly, with something to sell…

…but the main demonstration took place here…

…to show how sorghum syrup was made.

With the help of a motor connected to a belt…

…sorghum was fed and squeezed of its juice, which passed on to tubs to be cooked off…

…until the liquid on the left became the syrup on the right.


This video will help make a little clearer (the liquid passes through the black tube to the tubs).

A stand was set up for those interested in trying/cooking with sorghum.

Along with cookbooks, they sold sorghum syrup, sorghum suckers, and sorghum cookies…

…which were rather tasty.

For all other types of food, there was also a food stand…

…offering soup, hot dogs, Bea’s famous meat sauce to top those hot dogs…

…and some delicious cornbread.

Soup was served inside the nearby building…


…which was also a place to listen to some jam sessions…

…and appreciate the decor on the walls.

Even more music could be found and enjoyed outside…

…just a stone’s throw away from John Roger Simon’s parked truck…

…which only made it clearer that he loved Dolly.