The Pear Blossom Festival in recent years refocused its marketing strategies to attract a new demographic: foodies.
In 2009, festival staff introduced the Pear a Fare, a two-day event, featuring local and regional food vendors who present an array of artisan foods, confections, wines, spirits and brews in an enormous, climate-controlled tent. Last year, this food extravaganza expanded to include the Smudge Pot Stroll. For a set price, participants can enjoy a leisurely Friday evening of sampling food and wine at more than a dozen downtown restaurants.
"Those two events grew out of a suggestion made by a tourist guru, Brian Baker, at a chamber of commerce forum in 2008," says Richard Barney, the festival's marketing director.
Baker's suggestion was to make the festival a tourist destination, similar to the popular Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, the Sauerkraut Festival in Ohio and the Salsa Festival in Arizona.
"The foodie is the most desirable traveler," Barney says.
Even with its new slant, the festival remains largely a family affair, complete with a parade, face painting, cotton candy and curly fries.
The 59th annual Pear Blossom Festival, titled "Pears, Vines, Wines & Good Times," gets under way at 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 13. The opening ceremony will include comments by Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler, Pear Blossom Festival president Darcey Mann-Self and several other local dignitaries, followed by live music by local jazz and pop band Living On Dreams. All this takes place on the Commons Community Stage at the corner of Bartlett Street and Middleford Alley.
The second annual Smudge Pot Stroll begins at 5 p.m. Friday at the Pear a Fare tent, located near the corner of Main and Bartlett streets. For $30, or $50 per couple, participants will receive an illuminated souvenir glass and map of 16 participating restaurants, including Elements, Porters, 38 Central, Havana Republic, Gaetano Ristorante Italiano and others pairing wines and appetizers. Tickets will be available at the tent or by calling 541-840-PEAR.
The Pear a Fare tent will be open from 5 until 10 p.m. Friday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 14. See www.pear-a-fare.com for a list of participating vendors. Entrance is free, but to sample food, visitors must purchase an engraved souvenir glass and five taste tickets for $10.
Saturday's races begin at 7 a.m. (5-kilometer), 7:50 a.m. (1-mile), 8:20 a.m. (10-mile) and 8:30 a.m. (2-mile) in front of City Hall.
The highlight of the weekend, the Pear Blossom Parade, begins at 11 a.m. Saturday at the corner of Court Street and Central Avenue and will leisurely make its way south to Main Street and then west to Alba Park, where it will disband. This year, 150 organizations will participate in the procession, including all the usual suspects: marching bands, floats, equestrian groups, clowns and specialty vehicles.
Retailers, artists and food vendors will line the east side of Main Street between Riverside and Central avenues. There will be face painting, crafts, karate demonstrations, pony rides, a jump house and even an arcade.
At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, local chefs will create an ice sculpture near the Commons Community Stage.
A food court will be parked Saturday on Bartlett Street. Fun, fatty, frozen and fried treats will be available, along with some more healthful options.
"You typically think of corn dogs, french fries and cotton candy, and all those things will be there, but there also will be fish, salads and Asian dishes and a larger variety of ethnic foods," Barney says.
For more information about the event, see www.pearblossomparade.org.
"We're looking forward to having a nice 60-degree, sunny Saturday," Barney says. "We're always hopeful."