Crowds, sales and funds raised for local students and nonprofits all increased from last year at the 33rd annual Mushroom Mardi Gras festival, which took place in downtown Morgan Hill Saturday and Sunday.
And even though the weekend began with overcast skies and cooler-than-seasonal temperatures Saturday morning, the early attendees seemed to enjoy the sights, sounds and flavors of the annual arts, music and food festival.
“We came to see our friends, and see all the cool stuff everyone has to offer,” said Avery Conforti, 17. “Everyone from Morgan Hill comes out” for the annual festival.
Her friend Jacquelin Foggiato, 17, said the two were looking for toe rings for sale at one of the many vendors sprawled throughout the community center parking lot, Depot Street and downtown side streets.
“And we’re here to spend time with our families, and eat some good food. We like mushrooms and the chicken skewers,” said Foggiato, who added her parents and little brother were “walking around” elsewhere at the festival.
The festival offered a variety of fungal cuisine, kids’ games and rides, arts and crafts and clothing vendors, and three stages of live music throughout the weekend.
It’s also a fundraiser for local graduating high school seniors.
Mushroom Mardi Gras executive director Sunday Minnich said both proceeds raised and attendance were up by about 10 percent over last year. Festival organizers estimated about 80,000 people attended last year.
Event organizers gave away scholarships totaling $40,000 to 40 students this year, according to Minnich, in a ceremony both days in which State Senate candidate Bill Monning, Morgan Hill Mayor Steve Tate, Morgan Hill Unified School District Superintendent Wes Smith presented the awards on the community center’s amphitheater stage.
About 240 students applied for the scholarships, which are awarded based on a number of criteria including academic performance, community service involvement and other qualifications.
The festival also raised money for a “mini-grant program,” in which about $7,500 in grants were awarded to area elementary and middle schools, Minnich added. And the event raised an additional $16,000 in donations presented to nonprofit clubs and organizations that participated in the festival.
More than $800,000 in scholarships have been awarded because of the festival since 1980.
Besides being lucrative for students, schools and civic organizations, those who attended seemed to have fun eating, dancing and drinking, and the many for-profit vendors present reported strong sales, Minnich added.
“It was a great festival this year,” Minnich said. “The vendors had a great day on Sunday, even though Saturday was a little slow. Quite a few of the vendors said it seems like the economy is coming back.”
Vendors from dozens of booths along Depot Street and throughout the community center parking lot – and inside the community center – sold everything from handmade kitchen and home accessories, to decorations, clothing, jewelry, non-perishable foods, and even automobiles and patio decorations.
Strolling street musicians and entertainers wandered the festival grounds in costume, playing music and other entertainment.
A cooking demonstration stage just outside the Community and Cultural Center was new to this year’s festival, and featured professional chefs teaching audiences how to prepare gourmet cuisine.
“That turned out to be really popular,” Minnich said.
And of course the festival’s namesake was a big draw for food fans.
The Rotary Club and the Western Mushroom Marketing Association – which represents mushroom farmers in and around Morgan Hill – hosted an educational booth on the farming and economics of the many varieties of fungus grown in the area. The booth offered fresh mushrooms, and mushroom soup for sale.
Tom and Heather Gowallis, of San Jose, come to the Mushroom Mardi Gras every year. They attended with their two daughters, age 10 and 3, and a friend of the older child’s.
Tom said Mansmith’s tri-tip sandwiches are the “number one” attraction at the festival. The kids enjoy the shopping opportunities.
“We’ll buy something if it’s absolutely necessary,” Heather joked. “But we’re mostly here for the food and drink.”
Morgan Hill residents Cindy Monges and her mother Nancie Barker haven’t been to the Mardi Gras in a couple years, and wanted to check it out this year to see how much has changed about the festival.
“We were hoping to see more local” merchandise, Barker said. “I don’t care for all the commercial junk. I look way back years and years ago, and it was more hometown-ey. It looks like there’s a lot of good food though.”
Police and paramedics did not report any major criminal or medical incidents throughout the weekend, Minnich added. On Saturday there were a couple minor medical calls on festival grounds.