STEPHENS CITY — Live music, history tours, fireworks and a parade were among the many activities that drew over 1,500 people to the Newtown Heritage Festival in Stephens City over the weekend.
Newtown Heritage Festival President Tootie Rinker said the three-day event, which began Thursday evening and concluded Saturday night, had “great attendance.” She believed it was among the top three most attended events during the festival’s 30-year history.
“We were really, really pleased with how everything turned out,” she said. “... We had a fantastic crowd Saturday.”
Rainstorms canceled a planned Friday night screening of “The Sandlot,” but the skies were primarily sunny on Saturday.
“We were a little leery at certain points when there were dark clouds,” Rinker said. “But we never had any rain. We really didn’t have much wind or anything to be concerned about. Everything just kept right on going. The weather was perfect — it wasn’t too hot, it wasn’t too cold.”
The festival celebrates small-town life and the history of Stephens City, which was once called Newtown. It’s usually held every Memorial Day weekend, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the event’s cancellation in 2020. Last year, the festival was held in a scaled-back virtual format.
Saturday morning included a Memorial Day service, with veteran and Town Council member Mariah Smith serving as the keynote speaker. The day also included history tours, several live performances, a pie eating contest, food vendors, crafters and fireworks.
The main event was the parade, which involved antique cars, veterans, local businesses, fire trucks, army vehicles and church groups marching down Main Street.
Town resident Patty Hlavinka came to the parade with her granddaughter. She typically attended the festival every year before COVID and said the event’s return was “fabulous.” While she most enjoyed the parade, she added that “the crafts are fun. There is always something unique that I’ve never seen before.”
Annie Chadwick traveled from out of town to visit family for the festival and to celebrate her son’s fifth birthday. She said having a large-scale, in-person event was “nice” and felt like a return to normal after similar events were canceled during the pandemic.
Tom and Judy Cannon, who moved to Stephens City last year, said they enjoyed meeting fellow town residents and better understanding Stephens City.
Winchester residents Annie and John Cain said that they attended Middletown’s Fourth of July parade last year and enjoyed the small-town atmosphere that event brought. They came to the Newtown Heritage Festival parade in hopes of having a similar experience.
“We like the small-town Americana,” Annie Cain said. “I like the live music. It’s great to be able to get back out and enjoy things like this.”
Sheila McKee brought her 103-year-old aunt Dot Wilamowski to the parade for the first time.
“It’s wonderful to get out with the fresh air and the sunshine and get to see people,” McKee said. “[My aunt] absolutely loves parades.”
Rinker said she admired the “really clever floats” featured in the parade and how lively the crowd was when Souled Out performed music Saturday evening. However, the festival's highlight for her this year was the history tours.
“We had people that came from across the country to do that history tour,” she said. “... And we’re just thrilled by the comments we got about the young man who did it, how knowledgeable he was. I thought that was just absolutely wonderful.”
“It was so exciting to be out and about with the residents of Stephens City, as well as all those who came to visit our beautiful town; we could not have had a better day for it,” Mayor Mike Diaz said. “A very special thank you to all of our dedicated volunteers and staff who made our 30th annual event one that will be remembered. I’m definitely looking forward to next year’s events.”