The area’s biggest event of the year went off without a hitch, as the neighborhood just south of Bennington’s “Four Corners” on Main Street was transformed into Garlic Town U.S.A. from Saturday morning into the early evening hours.
The Garlic Town website quipped that vampires were prohibited from the premises. But between the various garlic-infused products and sunshine that persisted all day, vampires were likely one of the few uninterested demographics.
There was something for everyone else, as various vendors, food trucks, and entertainers from the tri-state region converged on Bennington for the festival.
With over 100 vendors needing space to set up their tents, one site wasn’t enough to hold Garlic Town U.S.A. Instead, the celebration was split up into two separate pods, cleverly referred to as “cloves.”
Clove A was tucked between Sunny Side Diner and Bennington Performing Arts Center, and Clove B was just down Depot Street across from the Bennington Firehouse.
Vendors in attendance ran the gamut from artisans and jewelers to wineries and distilleries. But make no mistake about it — the pungent guest of honor was a pervasive theme at many tents.
Garlic candy, garlic beer, garlic bulbs, minced garlic, dried garlic — if you’ve seen “Forrest Gump,” just picture Bubba describing all the different ways you can use shrimp.
“We have two bars here, as well, both run by Ramunto’s. They’re doing garlic Bloody Marys and garlic margaritas.
That may be one you taste once and never taste again, but at least you can say you’ve tasted it,” joked Matt Harrington, director of the Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce.
Each clove was equipped with a stage. Those in attendance were regaled with the musical stylings of Bubba Lou Tugget, the Bennington Traditional Jazz Band, Moose Crossing, the Julie Shea Band, Whiskey City, and Beard and Glasses. Music was in the air all afternoon.
Musicians weren’t the only performers present, as Chef Cara Thatch demonstrated how to make garlic butter, garlic marinades and dressings, and garlic ice cream.
Local wine expert Nancy Koziol offered garlic cocktail and mocktail recipes and other bartending tips.
Magician Doug Eash graced the stage at both cloves. There was plenty of other fun to be had for children, as well, with face painting, hair braiding, henna tattoos, and a Plushy Pals make-your-own stuffed animal station.
Captain America, the Little Mermaid, and Rapunzel from Bennington’s World of Wonder were present and fully in character, making the rounds to entertain the younger attendees.
Harrington estimated that attendance by the end of the day would be between 9,000 to 10,000 people. The Chamber moved the event last year from Camelot Village, where it had been held since 2009, to be a boon to Main Street businesses.
“Part of this is we absolutely want people to have fun … we’re hoping a lot of people here also make it downtown,” Harrington said.
“Last year, we calculated that an extra $100,000 was spent downtown in one day. So if we could do that, even better. That’s part of our mission as the Chamber of Commerce.”
Handling such an influx would not have been possible without the local residents in tie-dye t-shirts with “Stinkin’ Volunteer” written on their backs.
Giving their time to assist with the set-up and breakdown of the event, the rainbow-adorned army could be seen throughout the day tackling every other logistical task that might pop up in between.
Garlic Town U.S.A., formerly — and still colloquially — known as “Garlic Fest,” was purchased by the Chamber in 2008.
It began in 1995 in Wilmington as a relatively small farmer’s market and grew to become recognized by Reuters as one of the top 10 garlic festivals in the world.
Attendance was as high as 16,000 for the two-day event prior to COVID-19 and the passing of Lindy Lynch, who was instrumental in running the festival for years.
After a relatively quiet year in 2020 due to the pandemic, Harrington and event director Mikaela Lewis, with the help of their volunteers, have brought the event honoring the venerable vegetable back in full force. Read more articles on dollarnex.