For about thirty years now, give or take a year or two, we’ve been faithful attendees of the delightful Woodward Festival in my tiny hometown nestled in the woods. It’s been exactly the same as long as anyone can remember. The festival began in the early 1900s and never really evolved.
Fans of “Father Ted” will recall the episode where they go to the village Fun Fair, where the main attractions are a spinning cat and freak pointing. The festival is a little like that.
There’s a dart stand, where you can win big big prizes, like pencils, Kit-Kat bars, and this year…stuffed animals!
You can win one of Sonny Haines’s or Junior Orndorff’s watermelons (depending on who had a better harvest), if you plunk a quarter on the right number. Wink spins the wheel, and you can win! It used to be Bud, but he passed away.
There’s the paper opening booth, where you dig out up to 10 numbers from a giant lard tin, with the possibility of winning office supplies. One special year I won cookie magnets. Another year I won a wire mesh trash can.
The dime pitch is my favorite. You throw dimes at a table and if it lands in a dish you win that dish. I have won an entire set of amber colored cut glass juice tumblers at the dime pitch. I’m a pro. This year I won a 1940s Champrel shaving mug. I think it was left over from Mr. Stover’s auction. I also won a mug that advertised the Department of Justice Prison Branch, and an old Fire King mug advertising lawn care. TREASURES.
There’s a forlorn blackjack table that no one ever goes to because no one knows how to play.
You can play football pitch to knock down pretend milk bottles, but no one does that. That’s where all the kids hang out, though. It’s next to the outhouses. Yes, outhouses. Use them at your own risk.
You can win a 2-liter bottle of soda by throwing bracelets on them. That’s the hardest. It’s a rip-off.
The highlight of the festival is Bingo. The cards are probably from the 40s. You play with pieces of corn. I’ve never won a Bingo game. The lady with the weird eye always wins.
The festival always serves the exact same food: there’s a pig roast one night and a chicken roast the next. Both are excellent, but I prefer the pig roast. You can get very well-made hamburgers a few booths down, past the dime pitch and forlorn blackjack. Julie will tease you. They’ll probably be out of birch beer. The booth at the end has the world’s most amazing hand-cut French fries you will ever have in your life, and I mean IN YOUR LIFE. I’ll tell you how to eat them: first douse them (drown) in malt vinegar, then sprinkle with salt. If you must have ketchup on them, put it at the end of the fry holder and use it to dunk. You will love them. The old lady sitting on the chair is named Alice. This year she turned 99. They celebrate and sing “Happy Birthday” to her every year at the festival.
The Covalts will sing gospel one night, and “Country Express” (a band that only plays slow ballads, ironically) will sing country the other night. When you walk up the dirt lane toward your vehicle, when you hit the second tier of parking, you will hit the echo point, and the music playing from that sweetly-lit hollow in the middle of the woods, at the very base of Round Top Mountain, will haunt you with its eerie, ethereal quality. The ghosts of 100 festivals past will float past you, identical in every way except a slowly-rotating cast of characters. Will you join them? I love the Woodward Festival and always will.
Here are some fun pictures from our adventures this year!