Culture 07.22

Monterey Artichoke Festival board members (from left to right) Wes McClellan, president Kathryn Parish and Linda Scherer outside the Monterey Fairgrounds.

It’s been a long road for big events to return, but after 18 months of small and outdoor-adapted events like food truck nights and drive-thru movies, the fairgrounds is back in action. Specifically, the Artichoke Festival is back. The hyper-local festival, which helps raise money for local nonprofits, is set to re-open the Monterey County Fairgrounds back to its intended use: crowd-drawing events.

Alex Garcia, a festival board director, says people are ready to enjoy normalcy, even if it looks different. “It took nearly two hours of waiting in line [at Disneyland] for people just to get through the doors, but they were still excited,” he says. “It’s important for the community to know that we spent a long time thinking and we can say we’ve taken the proper precautions.”

All the greatest hits of the Artichoke Festival will return: live music, an artichoke-eating contest, carnival rides and games, wine tastings, chef demos and vendors slinging all kinds of artichoke-flavored treats. They’ve even added a car show for good measure.

Safety measures include regular cleaning, installing hand sanitizer stations and encouraging people to wear masks (new county health guidelines suggest all people wear a mask in outdoor crowds). “Of course, we’re asking people if they feel unwell, or have been around someone with Covid, to be responsible and stay home,” festival President Kathryn Parish says. “We’re following all state and local guidelines.”

As far as crowd control, the team has invested in new counters so the number of people will not surpass the state’s limit on large outdoor events: 10,000. Given that in past years the festival has drawn 5,000 to 8,000 people, and some will be hesitant this year, that should be no problem. “Four thousand would be a good number,” Garcia says.

There is, however, an added layer of pressure: The artichoke fest is the “first” to reopen the Fairgrounds. It will be a kind of litmus test for bigger events to follow. “It’s a big responsibility. They’re opening up event season,” says Fairgrounds CEO Kelly Violini. In preparation, Violini hired a Covid event consultant, which she says will be common practice moving forward.

If there was a team to jump into the proverbial deep end of the local events pool, Violini thinks the Artichoke Festival is the perfect candidate. “They never stopped preparing. They are just a conscientious group,” she says.

The team has already shown they’re not afraid of changing plans. They rescheduled their 5K fun run three times, then canceled it. “I’m not worried, I’m excited,” Parish says. “We’ve put in all the safety factors and are ready for people to just come out and enjoy themselves.”

Marielle Argueza is a staff writer and calendar editor for the Weekly. She covers education, immigration and culture. Additionally, she covers the areas of Marina and South County. She occasionally writes about food and runs the internship program.

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