History of the Garlic Festival
In 1989, Pat Reppert of Shale Hill Farm and Herb Gardens organized the first Garlic Festival held in the Hudson Valley – and perhaps on the East Coast. It was started as a promotional event for Reppert’s fledgling herb business and for New York State grown garlic. With no paid publicity except through her newsletter, ”Notes from Shale Hill Farm,” an article in the local Kingston Freeman newspaper and word of mouth, the attendance at the first festival far exceeded estimations.
In 1990, over 425 ”garlic lovers” attended the event in Reppert’s herb gardens-quadrupling the previous year’s attendance and stretching the facilities at the farm to its limits. In 1991, tickets were pre-sold to control the crowds and Reppert had over 1500 phone calls from people who were scrambling to gain admission. At this point, she knew she had something much bigger than she could handle, so she approached the Kiwanis Club of Saugerties about adopting the festival.
In 1992, the Kiwanis Club of Saugerties held their first Garlic Festival at Cantine Field in Saugerties, New York. The pre-festival crowd estimates were 2,500 if the weather held. To everyone’s surprise, despite considerable rain, 5,000 people attended and had a great time. Again in 1993 it rained, only in the morning, and attendance more than doubled to an estimated crowd of 13,000. On the last Sunday of September 1994, the weather finally cooperated and attendance took off to over 30,000.
The festival reached its attendance peak in 1995, when the turnout was estimated at 40-45,000 garlic enthusiasts. Some logistics problems resulted, including a Thruway traffic jam and Route 9W being blocked for 11 miles or so. To control the crowds and in order to grow in a more controlled fashion, a decision was made to expand the festival to two days and to begin charging an entrance fee. As a result the first two-day event was held in 1996. 1997′s attendance was estimated at 23,000. Good weather in both 1998 and 1999 saw attendance grow to 32,500 and 34,000 respectively. The threat of rain for Saturday and Sunday caused the 2000 Festival’s attendance to drop to 19,800. Excellent weather in 2001 and 2002 resulted in huge, enthusiastic crowds of 39,500 and 46,500 respectively.
2003′s festival was a rainy affair, with an amazingly large crowd showing up on the drier of the two days, Saturday, and a good number of brave souls showed up on Sunday, despite considerable rains and a muddy Garlic Marketplace. The traffic that resulted on Saturday taught us some lessons about traffic flow. In any event, 30,000 people showed up during the weekend, to enjoy the festivities and to stock up on their favorite herb.
There may be no such thing as a perfect festival, but we all felt the 2004 festival came close. Great weather, great crowds (50,000 for the combined Saturday and Sunday), and with the combined efforts of the Kiwanis Club of Saugerties, Saugerties Town Police, Saugerties Village Police, Greg Chorvas and his Cantine Field team, and especially the New York State Police, traffic and parking went amazingly smoothly. Good music, good food, good weather, and of course all enhanced by garlic . . . you can’t beat that!
The weather was cooperative in 2005, with a little rain early on Sunday putting a glisten on what was otherwise a great weekend. There were 5 stages of entertainment for the first time, the garlic lectures moved out from their usual home in the Main Pavilion, to a tent in the West Garlic Marketplace, and people commented that they liked the change, as they could hear the lecturers better. And there were more booths than ever, with a grand total of 250 booths. The official crowd for 2005 was 46,000. The official attendance numbers for the 2006 Hudson Valley Garlic Festival were 19,000 for Saturday and 17,000 for Sunday, for a grand total of 36,000 garlic lovers. And that was with a little sprinkle of rain on both days!
For those of you who were there for the perfect weather of 2007′s festival, you were either a part of the 25,000 garlic lovers who showed up on Saturday or the 28,000 more who come through the gates on Sunday. As a result, 2007 was the largest party Pat Reppert and the Kiwanis Club have ever thrown in celebration of the garlic harvest – a whopping 53,000 attendees!
In the tradition in which it was born, the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival™ continues to be a fun celebration of the harvest of what garlic aficionados lovingly refer to as the ”stinking rose”.