It’s a fair bet that every weekend throughout the year, there is a community festival going on somewhere in the Northwest. After all, this is a region known for its creativity, so it only makes sense that we would need as many outlets as possible for local artistic expression. That’s why I wanted to showcase some of these events in my annual Editor’s Picks. The five I chose—one each in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska and British Columbia—are not only successful, but they are also true community events produced by small organizing teams and local volunteers. Some are whimsical, some are legendary, some are thought-provoking. All are completely original. I think you’ll agree that they deserve to be honored.
The Anchorage Visitor Industry Charity Walk
It’s been dubbed Graze to Raise and the 5K Buffet. But no matter what you call it, the Anchorage Visitor Industry Charity Walk may be the only 5K during which participants gain weight. The event is organized by Visit Anchorage, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, to raise dollars for local charities. Participants travel by foot through downtown Anchorage, snacking at food stations along the route that feature menu items from area hotels and restaurants. Visit Anchorage’s public affairs and corporate giving manager, Anita Nelson, says registrants also have the opportunity to win prizes thanks to generous donations by the tourism industry. In years past, companies have donated sightseeing adventures, tickets to attractions and gift certificates for flightseeing tours, railroad packages, dining certificates and hotel stays. The walk begins and ends at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center, and at the finish line, sated hoofers, their cheerleaders and spectators enjoy desserts, live entertainment, a beer garden and children’s activities. Walkers choose the charities they would like to raise funds for, which have included Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis, Gana-A’Yoo Foundation and Special Olympics Alaska. A walking event that allows me to sample delicious bites along the way? That’s one event I would have no problem training for.
Talking Stick Festival
Celebrating its 17th year in 2018, Talking Stick Festival was organized to elevate indigenous voices in the arts and share them with the community at large. Held over 12 days in February, the event includes all facets of performing arts—from theater, dance, drumming and music to spoken word, visual arts and multimedia performance. “We do our very best to be inclusive of all indigenous performing arts … bridging the ideas of traditional and contemporary and bringing forward the work that is actually happening in our communities, be they urban, be they rural, be they on reserve or off,” explains Deneh’Cho Thompson, associate producer for Full Circle, the organization that produces the festival. “Given the diverse population of indigenous people in North America, we are inclusive of many, many styles of work—we have a powwow every year, we do storytelling, we do contemporary theater and dance. … We are also looking at things that might not be traditionally the Western successful mediums, so we are looking to drag and burlesque, as well, and trying to elevate that as a practice that is valued amongst other things.” The festival is held at 10–12 venues throughout the community with the primary location being Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre in Vancouver. In addition, performances are hosted at local schools, and a conference is held in conjunction with the festival, bringing industry professionals, artists and funders—indigenous and nonindigenous—together to discuss strategies for collaborating on indigenous performance. The festival draws approximately 13,000 people each year.
Idaho Spud Day
I love potatoes. I love potatoes fried. I love them mashed. I love them scalloped, baked and roasted. So is it any wonder that my choice for best event in Idaho is Idaho Spud Day? Held the third Saturday of each September, the event is organized by the Shelley Kiwanis and the City of Shelley. Next year will be the event’s 90th year. The event includes a Miss Russet Pageant, a parade with marching bands and floats, an appearance by Spuddy Buddy (a potato-costumed character), potato sack races (naturally), the Spud Run and the Tater Trot for the young sprouts in your group. One of the highlights of the festival is Spud Tug, a tug-of-war that takes place in a giant mash pit—as in a pit of mashed potatoes. Chris Sheetz, chairman of the event, says that to make the pit’s potatoes, a cement truck filled with potato flakes pulls up to a hole dug in a baseball diamond. Water is then added into the truck's mixer, which does its thing before depositing the mashed potatoes into the hole. One of the official duties of Miss Russet is to taste the mashed potatoes in the pit before the start of the tug-of-war. Seriously, could this event get any more fabulous? In a state known for potatoes, Shelley is a natural choice for celebrating the delicious tuber. “Shelley is predominately an agricultural town. The farmers here have grown potatoes for 100 years. We even have a road called Spud Alley,” says Sheetz.
West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta
Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin has got nothing on the 1,000-pound waterborne gourds of Tualatin, Oregon’s West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta. Now in its 14th year, the annual free event drew 15,000–17,000 people in 2015 (the 2016 event was cancelled due to inclement weather) and features competing (and costumed) paddlers navigating 900- to 1,794.5-pound, hollowed-out pumpkins on the Lake at Tualatin Commons. The event holds four heats: the first for pumpkin growers, the second for sponsors, third is a grudge match (is it just me, or does a pumpkinpaddling grudge match sound like just about the best thing you’d see all year?) and the fourth is an open lottery. Paddling positions are coveted: In 2015, 120 people from 10 states applied for one of the spots in the open lottery heat, and growers have come from around the world to compete. “We’ve had paddlers from Australia and Japan,” says City of Tualatin event specialist Heidi Marx. Additional event activities include a fun run, costume contest, pumpkin bowling, pumpkin golf, entertainment, arts and crafts, and plenty of food. Each year, artist and Tualatin resident Brenna White creates original artwork for the event’s posters based on a theme. This year’s theme is the Loch Ness monster. The event is organized by the City of Tualatin—a small community of 27,000 located approximately 12 miles south of Portland—and pumpkins are supplied by Northwest members of the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers association.
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
Every spring, the fields in Skagit Valley come alive in brilliant color, and hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the area to enjoy the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. This Northwest tradition bloomed from a three-day festival in 1984 into the monthlong event enjoyed today for one simple reason—flowers don’t blossom on demand. “The tulip blooms are fairly unpredictable—they’re crops, they’re Mother Nature,” says Cindy Verge, executive director of the festival. The self-guided driving tour and festival draws an estimated 350,000 visitors from all across the country and around the world. In 2017, guests came from all 50 states, eight Canadian provinces and 95 additional countries. “Last year, we had someone visit from Nairobi. She came up to see the tulips, and she was able to do that because one of her children immigrated to the U.S., and she was here for her grandchild’s birthday,” says Verge. The festival is organized with the help of approximately 30 volunteers, and includes a gala, art shows and concerts, as well as the Downtown Mount Vernon Street Festival and the Kiwanis Salmon Barbecue. Associated events include a fun run, bike ride and basketball tournament. Of course, the main attraction are the millions of tulips (and daffodils) that make an appearance each year courtesy of RoozenGaarde/Washington Bulb Co. and Skagit Valley Bulb Farm's Tulip Town. This is one of those events I never tire of attending. As Verge notes, “Flowers are the universal language of beauty.”