‘Grape’ time had at 119th fes­ti­val

His­tory

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - STACY RYBURN

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.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/J.T. WAM­PLER

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.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/J.T. WAM­PLER

Kensi Walk­ing­stick (from left), Michael Wil­son and Tom Walk­ing­stick ride a car­ni­val ride.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/J.T. WAM­PLER

Miceala Mo­rano of West Fork goes down the Fun Slide on Sat­ur­day at the Tontitown Grape Fes­ti­val.

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