By Josette Keelor
Springtime in the valley has had a slow start this year, but in Winchester plans for the 87th Shenandoah Valley Apple Blossom Festival are in full bloom.
Singing its theme as "The Land of Pink & Green," the festival scheduled from April 25 to May 4 will welcome warmer weather with music, food and nine days of nearly nonstop parties, said the festival's head of publicity, Susie Iden.
"During the week we have luncheons, we have dinners, we have dances," she said.
Beginning with the United Bank Bloomin' Wine Fest on April 25 and 26 and ending with two parades, a fireworks display, a Saturday morning coronation of Queen Shenandoah, a bluegrass festival and Anthony's Weekend in the Park May 3 and 4, the week also will include carnival, circus, Breakfast Walk, 10K race, pie-baking contest, golf tournament, band competition and trail of downtown midway tents will keep things rocking and rolling all week long.
"There's something for everyone to enjoy," Iden said. "A lot of family entertainment."
One of this year's biggest changes began this winter with auditions for the Apple Blossom's Got Talent competition, something festival President Lou Ann Thompson called "phenomenal."
"It's taken off like wildfire," she said. The first two public audition nights at the Bright Box Theatre, 15 N. Loudoun St., Winchester, were sold out, and the third will be April 3.
The theater can seat about 300 people, and competition co-chair Theresa Gaines called the experience so far "overwhelming."
"It's been going really well, better than we expected for the first year," she said.
To help visitors enjoy as much as they can, Thompson said some events have been moved from their traditional dates and locations.
The Oldies Rock 'n' Roll Dance has been moved from the festival's final Saturday to the previous weekend and will be from 7 to 11 p.m. on April 26.
"We didn't want to have too many events within that small span of time," she said.
Last year's downtown renovations forced events off the Loudoun Street Pedestrian Mall and into the area between Cameron and Loudoun streets, but Iden said it worked so well that Saturday morning events on May 3 will keep their same locations.
The midway, which features tents with food, drinks and games, will be at the north end of the walking mall, near Piccadilly Street.
The Weekend in the Park will return to its roots, according to Thompson.
"It's going to be quite different," she said. "Crafters will meander through the park. Probably 10 years ago it was like that, and everybody seems to be excited to go back to the old layout."
Apple Blossom's Got Talent will hold its final celebration from 7 to 11:30 p.m. May 3 when the final 12 contestants will perform in the Sprint Festival Event Tent. General admission to the finals is $25, and VIP tickets for $50 include private tables and a bar, food and Las Vegas-themed "goodies."
"You never know what little celebrities you will see walking around the tent," Gaines said. "But it will be a full night of entertainment."
Organizers have aligned the competition as closely as they can to the televised "America's Got Talent," which started in 2006 and is part of the global British "Got Talent" franchise. It accepts 10 contestants per audition night, having already judged talented singers, dancers, comedians and tricksters who do magic or even toss Frisbees.
Contestants have traveled from as far away as Virginia Beach and parts of West Virginia and Maryland, which Gaines said could be because of a void of comparative regional competitions.
"I would say that, number one, plus I think with having a $5,000 grand prize, people know it's a pretty serious competition," she said. Cash prizes, which include $1,500 to the runner up and $500 to the second runner up, were raised through sponsorships and ticket sales from previous festival years.
The semi-finals will be at 7 p.m. on April 17, when festival judges whittle down the 30 chosen contestants to 12. Auditions and the semi-finals are free to the viewing public but require a reservation through the Bright Box Theatre box office.
In weeks to come, the festival office will begin announcing celebrities who intend to join in the festivities, including the Grand Marshal of the Grand Feature Parade, the Firefighters' Marshal of the Friday night parade, and Queen Shenandoah herself.
After such a cold winter, Thompson said, "I think everybody's really looking forward to breaking out of their homes and getting involved in some warm weather activities."
For more information about the 87th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, call 540-662-3863 or visit thebloom.com. The festival office, at 125 N. Cameron St., Winchester, is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or email@example.com