If PumpkinFest was a person, it’d be Michael Jordan, sporting the number 23 jersey for how many years it’s entertained people.
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The annual fall celebration will mark more than two decades of fun with its traditional weekend of pumpkins, cider, costumes and all things family friendly.
“A lot of festivals die out and don’t make it. But I can be anywhere in the city and people say ‘You have the sweetest little festival. We love to come down,’” Cindy Daffron, executive director of the Pony Express Museum, said in a previous interview.
Being held Friday through Sunday, Oct. 11 through 13, in front of the Pony Express Museum, 914 Penn St., PumpkinFest continues to reach everyone that it can, from the famed Great Pumpkin Mountain lighting to music and storytelling performances.
In its 23 years of operation, PumpkinFest has developed a following of people looking to celebrate fall in a different kind of way.
Adding to that, some of the kids are now adults who grew up watching the nearly 70-foot-long rows of pumpkins that make up the mountain being lit up every year, and they are passing the tradition on to their children.
As it’s been for 23 years, the switch to light up all those pumpkins gets flipped at 8 p.m. Friday.
“We put a sound system at the mountain so Friday night you can hear the countdown,” Daffron said, “It’s more dramatic, by all means.”
Another tradition continues on Saturday: the children’s costume parade at 11 a.m. Beginning at Patee Hall, just down the road from the museum, registration begins an hour before the parade. A costume contest will commence after the parade at the Main Stage.
“It’s always the hot item. We have the gifts for them,” Daffron said. “It’s really fun to see everyone dressed up at the mountain.”
Kids can get dressed up and march with their parents from Patee Hall back to the festival grounds, where prizes will be awarded in multiple age groups.
Throughout the weekend, children also can get balloons from Up, Up and Away, a free book, check out the petting zoo, watch magic, color with their parents and many other activities. Here’s a closer look at the happenings this weekend:
Friday, Oct. 11
PumpkinFest will kick off with Will Stuck opening the event at 4:55 p.m.
The night’s events will include creepy music, roving entertainment from entertainers like magician BJ Talley and Aubrey WhipIt Zechariah, music by The Baker Family and the lighting of Great Pumpkin Mountain at 8 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 12
PumpkinFest has covered all of its bases for a full day of activities. There will be traditional events, like the children’s parade, with registration beginning at 10 a.m. and the procession at 11 a.m. with prizes awarded at 11:30 a.m. Truth Academy of Dance will kick off the performers at 12:30 p.m.
For Daffron, the continuing goal for the festival is to get people back to a down-home, natural good time.
“Part of the fun is you take kids out of that setting of the phones. You bring them here and they don’t care about the phone. They care about all the other things that are here,” she said.
Musical guests will include Lucy Hamilton, Phil Vandel Band, the Benton High School orchestra and festival favorite The Real Beal’s Knobtown Skiffle Band.
“Everybody said, ‘Put them on the Main Stage’ because it’s fun to see somebody playing on a washboard and spoons,” Daffron said.
Sunday, Oct. 13
The weekend closes out with an eclectic mix of entertainers, including the acoustic duo Oxymoron, the Hontz Family and “Pony Express Stories,” featuring historical reenactments.
Throughout the weekend, there will be a variety of kids’ activities like “Pony School Days” from noon to 3 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, and noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13. There also will be caricature drawings, face painting, pony rides, typewriter poetry, carnival and wagon rides and a balloon artist.
The event is free and open to the public.
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live