A pair of new fests

Gilroy
– For the past 25 years, the Gilroy Garlic Festival has put the
city on the map, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to
the city. The Gilroy Visitor’s Bureau is now organizing weekends
devoted to Bluegrass music as well as arts and wine in an effort to
round out the city’s roster of fest
ivals and attract tourists during the off-season.
Gilroy – For the past 25 years, the Gilroy Garlic Festival has put the city on the map, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city. The Gilroy Visitor’s Bureau is now organizing weekends devoted to Bluegrass music as well as arts and wine in an effort to round out the city’s roster of festivals and attract tourists during the off-season.

The Bluegrass festival is scheduled to take place in May during national bluegrass month, and the arts and wine festival will follow in Oct. 2005.

“The Garlic festival was the impetus for us to look at this. That is the granddaddy of them all,” said Kirstin Carr, head of the visitor’s bureau. “We wanted to find a way to capitalize on the festival spirit and draw people to Gilroy during other seasons.”

While modeled on Gilroy’s premier July event, the city expects a more modest turnout during the Bluegrass festival’s first year.

Lora Hicks, president of Northern California Bluegrass Society (NCBS), said she is “shooting for 1,000 to 1,500” people this time around.

Carr approached Hicks and the NCBS about six months ago to gauge their interest in Gilroy as a festival venue.

NCBS already puts on a bluegrass festival each July at Bolado Park in Hollister. The event usually has about 35 local bands. Hicks said the Gilroy event would be “even bigger,” serving as a regional draw for bluegrass enthusiasts who follow the festival circuit.

Hicks would not reveal which bands she has lined up, but said she has gotten “verbals,” or promises to perform, from “big headliners.”

Bluegrass is an American music form that combines African-American, English, Irish and Scottish influences, according to the NCBS. The music, which frequently draws on the gospel music, is typically played by a group of four to six musicians on banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, and upright bass.

The Gilroy bluegrass festival will benefit the nonprofit Mid-Central Coast Music Endowment, which will focus on bringing music into elementary schools in Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties. Like other NCBS festivals, the Gilroy event will feature Kids on Bluegrass, which provides a weekend crash course in the music to a dozen kids who then perform at the festival.

Hicks said the Casa de Fruta site is especially suited to the Gilroy festival.

“It’s a really beautiful site and it’s ideally located because we can get the central valley,” she said. “Most people have said ‘It’s about time you got one here.’ “

While Hicks and the NCBS will take the lead on the bluegrass event, the city is heading efforts to organize an arts and wine festival in Oct. 2005.

Mayor Al Pinheiro, a member of the visitor’s bureau, said, “anytime that you can bring good clean fun to our city it makes other people aware of our community and makes people aware of the businesses around here.”

The arts and wine festival will showcase local and regional artists in tents around the gazebo at Christmas Hill Park. It will also include booths offering local foods and wine.

Officials hope the event will breathe new life into the struggling arts contest held each October at the Willey Cultural Center. Attendance at the show, which awards jury prizes to local painters and photographers, “has really been dwindling,” Carr said.

The Renaissance Faire, the largest off-season event, is also finding it hard to attract enough visitors. In its third season, the six-weekend event drew 40,000 visitors – half the amount needed to sustain the event financially. The festival reorganized under new management for this year’s event and plans to return to Gilroy next fall.

“We know that times are tough all the way around,” Carr said. “We need to find a way to get people excited to come to town during the off-season.”

New festivals

• Bluegrass Music Festival: May 13-15, 2005 at Casa de Fruta

• Arts and Wine Festival: Oct. 8, 2005, from 11am – 5pm at Christmas Hill Park

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