"Don Reed, Knight of Golden Rod, prepare to charge," came the voice from a dented tin speaker hanging on a pole in the mud. "Charge, sir knight!"
With that, the horse bounded into a gallop, and the man in Caterpillar Tractor hat and blue jeans rose in his saddle, aiming the needle tip of his steel lance at a half-inch ring hanging from a wooden arch.
Seconds later, he tugged the reins to slow the horse, triumphantly displaying the ring that he had speared.
Reed had hauled his horse to Barnesville from Clearspring, in western Maryland, more than 70 miles. He was only one of about 3,000 people from across the state and beyond who traveled the roads of western Montgomery County Saturday for the town's 107th annual picnic and jousting tournament.
Only a handful of denimed "knights" and a few "fair maidens" charged through a ravine on the grounds of St. Mary's Catholic Church--the traditional site of Barnesville's most famous event.
The jousting--Maryland's official sport--was only part of a cacophony of entertainment in the foothills of Sugarloaf Mountain. The drone of bingo numbers being called carried through crowds pitching pennies to win vases and quarters for cakes. The Poolesville Band trumpeted the announcement of each equestrian competitor, and a clamor of friends reunited and children squealing swept the air around the pavilion.
Inside the pavilion, tables were crowded with yellow-yarn poodles, hand-sewn "gingerbread man" dolls, wooden trucks, candles, pincushions and a sign promising "More Outside."
The visitors came from as far away as New York and Florida. Edward Kearns of Germantown has been attending the festival for five years. He said he loves the country music band, the raffles and the home-grown corn for sale. "But what's really good about coming is the food," he said. "It is good."
"Super good!" exclaimed an elderly woman, sitting down to a long table graced with vases of black-eyed Susans and crammed with steaming bowls of fresh beans, potatoes, beets and barbecued chicken.
Volunteers from the St. Mary's parish never allowed the bowls to empty, racing for refills to the kitchen, where cooks kept the food coming.
It took massive quantities to feed the long lines of people that queued up throughout the afternoon. It took tough standards to make sure the chicken tasted good.
"Awwwrrrright," came the shriek beneath the frayed straw hat of Bettie Witt. "TURN 'EM!"
BOOM-boom! BOOM-boom! Two men, arms glistening in the heat, made their way along the 80-foot long, metal barbecue pit, flipping 19 racks of wire mesh and steel pipes, each holding 40 pieces of chicken. Witt followed, stoking the fire with a metal rake and sending clouds of charcoal smoke billowing over the cooks.
Witt's family has supervised the barbecue at Barnesville for 20 years. Her family, from Olney, has been in the chicken business, making everything from incubators to cookers, for as long as she can remember.
"If it has anything to do with chickens," she said with a nod, "we do it."
The smoky scent wafted over the grounds but disappeared along with loose balloons into the bright sky that, until just before the festivities began, had threatened to rain.
"The sun always comes out," said Pat Donovan Werling, scanning the hillside fair on her 13th annual visit. "I've never seen it fail."