Apple Blossom Festival is gearing up for 88th year

The 88th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival is ready to spring into bloom.

“There is plenty of anticipation and the planning sessions are in top gear,” said John Rosenberger, executive director of the festival.

“The festival store in the old Glaize building [135 N. Cameron St.] opens Monday, March 30th but the real information doesn’t come out until around April 1.”

The iconic 10-day festival  runs from April 24 through May 3 this year and it recently upgraded its digital offerings by adding its own official Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival App for mobile devices — Android, iPhones and the iPad.

The festival already provides communication with the computer literate through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a voluminous information website: www.thebloom.com.

Attracting an average of 250,000 visitors to a city of 26,000, the festival, with more than 40 diverse events, is one of the oldest civic celebrations in Virginia.

The festival began in 1924 and has been held annually except for the years 1942-1945 during World War II.

“We like it, it’s fun, traditional,” said Rosenberger, who has been executive director of the stand-alone independent, not-for-profit corporation since 1999 after serving four years on the festival’s board.

“It’s an important part of life around here,” said Rosenberger, a 1967 graduate of Handley High School and a 1972 Virginia Tech graduate. He has seen the festival begin to change from the inside out. “I don’t think anyone around here would consider not having the festival.”

Rosenberger’s view of the festival differs from the festival-goer.

“I hardly ever think of the festival like someone who is just viewing it as an event,” said Rosenberger. “There have been tweaks over the years, but it hasn’t changed fundamentally.”

“Our foundation blocks remain the same,” he added. “The midway is still downtown, the parades are still here — one Friday and one Saturday — a lot of things still center around Handley High School, we have fireworks, dances and the banquet — there is still a coronation, ladies’ luncheon, stag luncheon … .”

“We are trying to maintain it in a way all its fans will recognize it.”

Rosenberger manages a permanent, full-time staff of four who work with thousands of volunteers in today’s environment that have to contend with security concerns, permits, insurance and rising financial costs.

“The expense of just putting on the festival is 10 times what it cost in the early 1990s,” said Rosenberger. The festival raises funds one-third each from corporations, tickets to events, and miscellaneous — small government donations, vendor fees, souvenirs, pins, programs, etc.

Financial details are not disclosed as contracts and negotiations dealing with donations and performers are “complicated, complex,” Rosenberger said. “Their needs have to be met, too.”

While the world has changed since a three-hour pageant was performed by students on Handley’s steps [stopped in 1965], some traditions remain the same.

Rosenberger’s favorite festival time is when the town shuts down mid-afternoon Friday, streets are blocked, people walk the streets, engage vendors and parties spring up along the Firefighter’s Parade route — some not ending until the Grand Feature Parade ends Saturday.

“I just love that atmosphere,” said Rosenberger. “Absolutely from noon Friday to suppertime Saturday.”

Events include band competitions, dances, parades, carnival, wine festival, breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, a 10K and kids’ race, the Coronation of Queen Shenandoah, firefighters’ events, celebrity appearances and more.

The financial benefit is estimated at $10-15 million dollars for Frederick County and the northern Shenandoah Valley as well as southern Berkley County in West Virginia.

“We can fill a lot of hotel rooms up,” said Rosenberger, whose goal is always to do a little better than the year before.

“We are working hard,” he said, “but what usually decides success is who the celebrity is and what the weather is like. At this point we haven’t announced any of the celebrities but by mid-April we will know how things are going to go this year.”

The parade route remains basically unchanged — although the Firefighters Parade now follows the same route as the Grand Feature parade.

“The back-to-back parades are the backbone of the festival,” said Rosenberger. “The whole festival builds off of that.”

“The Grand Feature is a pretty big parade,” Rosenberger said proudly. “From beginning to end, it can easily last 3 1/2 to 4 hours. The Rose Bowl parade is barely l 1/2 hours these days. And the Firefighter’s parade can last 2 to 2 1/2 hours.”

“We will have 200 legitimate units,” Rosenberger said. “I don’t know how many legitimate 200 unit parades there are these days. We may not be the biggest or longest, but it’s a pretty darn good parade.”