LODI — It didn’t take long for David and Mary Beth Wilmot to pick up on the local vibe at this weekend’s 79th annual Lodi Grape Festival and Harvest Fair.
“It’s got a real homey feel to it. There’s lots of things here for kids, and that’s great,” said David Wilmot, one half of the husband-and-wife truck-driving team from Jackson, Tennessee, who had parked their big rig up in Sacramento and decided to spend all day at the festival after learning that one of their favorite hard rock bands, Great White, was performing free with the price of admission Sunday evening.
With no kids to keep entertained at the extensive carnival rides on a hot, sunny day, the Wilmots were happy inside the much cooler Pavilion Building experiencing one of Lodi’s best-known adult pleasures: wine tasting at the popular Wine Cellar, where nine local wineries provided generous samples of their best vintages for $15.
As truckers, the Wilmots have visited all 48 lower states. Not big festivalgoers, they primarily attend state fairs, so they were surprised to learn that the Lodi Grape Festival is not even a county fair. Rather, it provides a unique opportunity for local charitable organizations such as the Lions Club and 4-H to raise approximately $150,000 a year while bringing together area families for four days of fun and entertainment.
And, after the receipts are counted this week, festival Chief Executive Mark Armstrong believes the 2016 festival could be one of the best ever.
“I think Saturday could be the biggest day in the 25 years I’ve been here,” Armstrong said Sunday afternoon. “Every day so far has been very good.”
He credited several factors that could account for the uptick in attendance.
“It just seems like people have a little more money to spend now. It’s a community event and they want to come out — it’s affordable too,” he said.
The festival gets strong support from the community’s valued wine industry — “more and more every year,” Armstrong said. “Collectively, they couldn’t be more supportive, understanding that they are all in the middle of harvest right now.”
The festival, he said, also makes an effort to keep up with the times, for example offering more than just wine for adults by bringing in a selection of craft beers at Pat’s Pub. It also didn’t hurt that the long-running funk band WAR headlined the free entertainment Saturday evening.
But most of all, Armstrong is convinced people really come for one thing. “They love the food,” he said.
Lodi’s Pannu family — parents Hap and Sunny and their sons, Arjun, 8, and Armaan, 6 — might agree. They were enjoying a cool lunch break after spending their first few hours under the hot sun at the carnival.
“We came last year for the first time. We’d like to make it a tradition,” said Sunny Pannu, explaining that in past years, they always had some other event interfering, but now they hope to make the Grape Festival a priority after having so much fun.
The Pannus were sitting in the Pavilion Building surrounded by a display of numerous murals made entirely of either grapes or a mixture of dried commodities. It’s one of the highlights of the annual festival that makes it somewhat unique.
Nearby, St. Anne’s Catholic School eighth-grade classmates Marina Balaga, Marissa Reid and Madeleine Heli, all 13, and Caitlin Faith, 14, all had a hand in creating their school’s award-winning depiction of what they described as “the original road trip — Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem.”
Marissa said working on the mural over the past five days — it took even longer to gather the fruits, nuts and vegetables for the mural — was “really cool. It was a lot of work, a lot of glue. It was really sticky.”
— Contact reporter Joe Goldeen at (209) 546-8278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at recordnet.com/goldeenblog and on Twitter @JoeGoldeen.