BENNINGTON -- Labor Day weekend reeked but nobody seemed to mind at the annual Southern Vermont Garlic and Herb Festival, where thousands descended for two days of stinky fun.
After seven years in Bennington, the event functioned like a well-oiled machine with opportune weather boosting crowds. Organizers Sunday reported an attendance figure of approximately 8,000 on Saturday alone -- equivalent to last year's total crowd, and on track for a new record. (Attendance was dampened in 2011 a week after Tropical Storm Irene, when the fields were soggy and some main thoroughfares were still cut off.)
The event's annual Labor Day scheduling helps to attract a diverse group of young and old; newly returned college students and groups of motorcyclists. Fortuitously given the mob, one of the biggest changes to this year's event came outside the gates in the form of a new traffic and parking plan which included a second westward entrance to Camelot Village cutting down on congestion along Route 9.
A group from Troy, N.Y., arriving Sunday was comprised of a mix of repeat and first-timers, who said they would be enjoying themselves and doing some early Christmas shopping.
Another couple from Lee, Mass., said this year would be their first time at the Bennington festival, despite some 35-odd varieties of garlic currently planted in their home garden.
With tons of garlic-flavored options for the culinarily adventurous, vendors also hawked jewelry, clothing, crafts and accessories. Demonstrations ran the gamut of garlic cooking, planting, and braiding (advice on all was given out freely), while activities like face painting kept children occupied. Live music was a hit running the entirety of both days.
One vendor, Alan from Albany, N.Y., said this was his second time at the festival. Offering a selection of woodworking and clocks, he said he especially enjoyed the music, but, "people are here basically for the food."
"It's all about the food."
Festival coordinator Lindy Lynch agreed. The president of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce said garlic festivals were at the height of popularity, and while crafts and music were added value, she emphasized the focus would remain on garlicky foodstuffs, as the festival's late creator, Steven Wrathall, had envisioned.
Vendor space sold out
With over 200 vendors, Lynch said spaces at the festival were completely sold out -- a first for the event during its time in Bennington. (Before 2007, the festival was held in nearby Wilmington.) Planning ahead, she said future events could see increasing numbers of in-state Vermont merchants.
With an abundance of attendees, vendors and music, about the only thing this year's festival lacked was enough volunteers. While there were about 35 each day, "we need hundreds," said Lynch. In return for two two-hour shifts, volunteers got a meal and free attendance. "And you have fun."
"We want everyone to get involved." While all benefit from the weekend tourism, Lynch said organizers were desperate for new volunteers to give others a reprieve.
"Art Whitman is out here for two days straight driving the tractor," she said, motioning to the ceaseless parking lot shuttle.
For those who missed the opportunity this weekend, there's another big Chamber event shortly. With little reprieve, Bennington will herald back its antique and classic car show, Sept. 14 through 16 -- volunteers wanted.
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