New book highlights four decades of Gilroy Garlic Festival history

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gilroy garlic festival playbook j. chris larry mickartz david bouchard milias restaurant
Larry (from right) and J. Chris Mickartz celebrated the release of their book, “The Gilroy Garlic Festival Playbook: For the Love of Garlic and Community,” with David Bouchard, the first executive director of the festival, and others during a party at The Milias Restaurant in Gilroy on Sept. 12. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Throughout its four-decade history, the Gilroy Garlic Festival served as the city’s unofficial leadership academy, where countless volunteers grew up not only in the sense of age, but also by the skills they learned through putting on the massive event and its numerous intricacies.

Many prominent community leaders in Gilroy got their start at the festival, whether it was through setting up booths, selling tickets or heading up an entire department.

J. Chris and Larry Mickartz were there from the beginning: J. Chris served on the original planning committee in 1978, while Larry, who attended the first festival, began volunteering in 1981.

The Gilroy couple met at the festival and eventually got married 25 years ago, and were annual fixtures at the event.

Having experienced the history of the Gilroy Garlic Festival first-hand, the Mickartz’s used their love of Gilroy’s signature event to release “The Gilroy Garlic Festival Playbook: For the Love of Garlic and Community,” a 248-page hardcover coffee table book that features more than 2,000 historical photos and a comprehensive history of the festival’s run from 1978-2021.

“The festival had an impact on so many lives,” J. Chris said. “It really did provide an avenue for a lot of Gilroyans and those beyond Gilroy. It really is for the love of the community that we wanted to have this as a memento of the Garlic Festival.”

J. Chris and Larry said they had the idea for the book for a long time, and in 2006 began their research. At the same time, the Mickartz’s, who own InfoPower Communications, were busy growing their magazine, gmhTODAY, and the book was put on the back-burner.

But when they retired from gmhTODAY in 2020, they started seriously working on the book again, J. Chris said. Both did the writing, while J. Chris designed the book and Larry processed the photos.

Larry said they combed through about 100,000 photos from the festival’s archives as well as his own, eventually whittling it down to 2,000.

gilroy garlic festival playbook j. chris larry mickartz
The hardcover book features 248 pages of historical photos and highlights of the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

He added that throughout their research, the authors heard countless stories about the festival from attendees, but, even though the book is 248 pages and weighs nearly three pounds, it would take many more pages to fit all of them.

Both said they were disappointed over the recent news that the Garlic Festival would not be holding its traditional event for the foreseeable future, making the release of the book and the memories it holds that much more important.

“I’ve got a hope that the history and the memories that are in the book will spark some courage and some determination to bring it back,” Larry said.

The Mickartz’s held a release party Sept. 12 at The Milias Restaurant in downtown Gilroy.

Jeff Speno, president of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association, lauded the publishers for producing a “great book.”

“Although the book was the idea and hard work of Larry and J. Chris, the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association was proud to assist at a small level in the promotion of their book to many current and prior festival guests and volunteers,” he said. 

The authors held various book signing events throughout the week. Another one is scheduled on Oct. 1 from 10am to noon at the Gilroy Museum, 195 Fifth St.

The book is available for purchase at ggfplaybook.com, and at the California Welcome Center Gilroy and BookSmart in Morgan Hill.

As for what’s next, the couple have some ideas, but is another self-published book and all the challenges behind it part of the future? Doubtful, they say.

“We’re going to try to retire,” J. Chris said.

“I failed at retiring,” Larry added. “I’m not really good at it.”

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.

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