‘Grape’ time had at 119th festival
TONTITOWN — When Kailey Baker, Michelle Garcia and Ellen Bucher got to the Grape Festival on Saturday afternoon they tried to find the wine but were unsuccessful.
Luckily, the rainbow-colored, flowery daiquiri stand stood out among the crowd.
The trio, in their early 20s, had never attended the Grape Festival before and decided to make a loop around the grounds.
“We kind of came in with an open mind,” Baker said, refreshment in hand. “We’re not busy and we like to drink. We’ll be fine.”
The Grape Festival has been around for more than a century and in that time has gained quite a following. Organizers say tens of thousands attend the five-day event every year, although admission is free so it’s kind of hard to tell.
There’s the grape stomps, the coronation of Queen Concordia (17-year-old Mikayla Pianalto won this year), arts and crafts fairs and of course, nightly spaghetti dinners. The recipe has stayed the same for 119 years.
Festival-goers can bank on tradition, Chairman Eric Pellin said.
“In a world that’s ever-changing, we pride ourselves on being constant,” he said.
Crystal and Tony Stratis watched as 6-year-old Ryder Sorrels, Crystal’s son, struggled to keep a grip on
In 1895, Italian immigrants left Genoa to escape high taxes, overcrowding, food scarcity, political unrest and war. Father Pietro Bandini joined the immigrants in America. They found a farm near Springdale with about 40 families and named it Tontitown for Henri de Tonti, who established the first colony in Arkansas.
A harvest in 1898 resulted in a celebration and the tastiest meals the settlers’ meager provisions would allow. That first frolic in the woods stemmed the Grape Festival of today. the steering wheel of his bumper car. He got pushed back into his seat every time another car bumped into his. He didn’t seem to mind too much.
“He’s a little adrenaline junkie so anything he can drive he’s going to love it,”
Crystal Stratis said. “He loves anything like that.”
Ryder came out of the fracas a bit winded but excited. He imagined the possibilities had he not been restrained.
“If you went 100 miles an hour you could hit them really hard,” he said. Mom and stepdad then remembered a driver’s license is only 10 years away.
Madi Lewis, who emphasized she is 7 ½ years old, got off the Star Flyer ride with her grandmother, Rhonda Mattingly, unfazed. The ride takes those brave enough up 90 feet in the air and twirls them around.
Mattingly and her husband, Paul, have brought Madi to the festival on a semi-regular basis. Paul Mattingly goes for the food. Rhonda Mattingly likes to take it all in.
For Madi, nothing beats the rides, especially the Cliff Hanger. Riders lie flat, suspended above the ground and fly in a circle, as if in a hang glider.
“That was the best ride I’ve ever been on in my life,” Madi said. “All the other ones from before, I was really young when I rode the other rides. I couldn’t ride any good ones.”
Saturday marked the last day of this year’s Grape Festival.
Levi Goodman, 6, rides a mechanical bull Saturday at the 119th Tontitown Grape Festival. The festival began in 1898 when at least 40 Italian immigrant families celebrated a harvest in their newfound home.
Kensi Walkingstick (from left), Michael Wilson and Tom Walkingstick ride a carnival ride.
Miceala Morano of West Fork goes down the Fun Slide on Saturday at the Tontitown Grape Festival.