Rite of Spring: Mayfest organizers prepare for popular weekend event

Tuesday May 21, 2013


Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The 28th annual Mayfest will be a little different this year, but you might not notice anything has changed.

That’s because the key to a successful festival, according to John Shannahan, director of Better Bennington Corp., the group that organizes Mayfest, is keeping things fresh often in ways that go undetected by festival goers.

For Mayfest, Main Street will be closed from the Four Corners to Valentine Street starting at 5 a.m. Saturday. The event begins at 10 a.m. and runs to 5 p.m. with the road opening up at 6 p.m. sharp. Roughly 150 vendors peddling everything from arts and crafts, clothing, and food will be set up in Main Street while the Walloomsac Farmers Market will return for the second year in a row near the Valentine Street part of the event.

Shannahan said each year the BBC pays attention to how people move through the event and combines what they observe with what they learn from researching other festivals. He said open space is key as being hemmed in by vendors and people at all times does not make for a good atmosphere. People like space where they can stop and talk with friends and family.

He said a tent for dogs is also available. Even dogs who like people can get over-excited or over-heated and the tent will allow them a place to relax and cool off.

There will also be some quiet areas for people to sit, while five stages scattered about will host a variety of entertainers including country music and cloggers. A wide selection of food vendors will be on hand as well, he said. People can expect gourmet coffee and lemonade stands, "Dippin’ Dots," and at least one vendor selling Mexican-style food. There will also be local craftsmen and food vendors.

"We like it when local caterers are in there, they do a really nice job," he said.

Shannahan said Mayfest is limited in its size but not its layout, which the BBC seeks to keep fresh each year by moving things around and trying to get a variety of vendors. "You don’t want it to be the same show every year," he said.

There is no gate fee for the event, said Shannahan, so there is no way to guess exactly how many people attend, but it’s estimated between 10,000 and 15,000 people will participate. He said one way the BBC has learned to estimate the crowd size is through garbage. An event that can fill a 10 cubic yard trash bin is generally considered to have drawn about 10,000 people.

He said this year it will be seen if the newly completed Route 279 extension keeps large trucks from going through Bennington during the festival. In the past trucks have had trouble navigating some of the detours.

Shannahan said Mayfest costs about $11,000 and makes $15,000. The money is spent on advertising the event, police services, trash-pick up, and rented seating. Sponsoring the event is Carbone Honda, which will have vehicle on display.

BBC is looking in to ways to quantify the festival’s benefit to the town in terms of income for businesses. He said one-day events typically do not have as much local impact as two-day events, which produce spending in hotels and restaurants. A few local downtown businesses do well during Mayfest and put their wares on the sidewalk to join in. Others provide "come back" coupons or gift cards.

Mayfest is a "rain or shine" event, said Shannahan, and for the past five years the weather has been cooperative. As of Monday the National Weather Service was predicting mostly sunny weather this weekend.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.


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