I remember the first Troy Strawberry Festival back in 1977.
I remember it because I avoided it.
A friend of mine and I were transplanting a couple trees — we dug them up east of town and were moving them to a location south of town. We drove over the Market Street Bridge and saw the booths along the levee. We had a lot to do that day, so we didn’t stop to see what was going on. We figured there was about a 50-50 chance the festival would be back the next year.
It’s a good thing we didn’t put any money on our predictions about the success of the festival. This weekend it will celebrate its 38th year. It has survived near tornadoes, bridge closings, high water and who knows what else since that first day back in 1977.
But few of the festivals have sparked as much disagreement as this one.
Two years ago when the Adams Street Bridge was closed, the festival was held downtown. That worked out so well that the festival is expanding this year with part of it being held downtown and part on the levee. Then it was announced the festival parade would be scaled back to a small “walking parade” on Saturday morning. No more parade route along South Market Street and Main Street, no more floats or guys riding motorcycles or convertibles with people waving at the crowd. This didn’t sit well with some people. The parade is a tradition and who knows what might happen if things were moved downtown. I have to say I wasn’t one of those people.
The parade takes a huge amount of work. In recent years, it has lost its major sponsors, mainly because the sponsors figured out it wasn’t a good investment. In an era of electronic entertainment, parades have lost a lot of their appeal for many people. They’re, well, how can I say it — boring. Personally, I’ve never been a big parade guy — if you want to watch a bunch of cars with people you don’t know sitting in them, you can plop a chair out there on Market Street any day of the week and get an eyeful. I understand parades are a tradition for some people but all good things (and even things that aren’t so good) run their course. The festival committee has only so much time and money and it seems to me they can get a better return for that effort in other areas of the festival. Then there’s the move to downtown. I am going to make a confession here — I avoided the festival for years because there would be wall-to-wall people on the levee and it was hot and crowded and who needed to go through all that just to get a lemon shake-up? But the year it moved downtown it was a lot more pleasant. Spreading the festival out over both areas should make it a much more enjoyable experience.
Here’s the bottom line: you have to be willing to change to keep events like this fresh and appealing. The common joke around town for years has been that many locals plan their vacations around the Strawberry Festival — so they can be out of town. Maybe not shutting down half the town for a parade and opening up the festival will change some of that. Maybe it won’t. But it’s worth a try and I think the festival committee deserves some credit for making the effort and not just doing the same things over and over because that’s the way it’s always been.
I suggest we all just stop whining and go out and try to have a good time. Here’s hoping the 38th Strawberry Festival is a big success — if I had to place a bet on it, I would guess things will be better than ever. And if not, we’ll have learned some lessons to apply to the 39th Strawberry Festival.