BENNINGTON, VT — Anyone driving through southwest Vermont this weekend needs to roll up the car windows, close the air vents, and hold their nose tightly to ward off the smell sure to be wafting all over.
That's because you'll be driving close to what Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Matt Harrington called "the town's premier annual event," the 21st Annual Southern Vermont Garlic and Herb Festival.
The ever-growing Labor Day weekend marker, also known by its popular name of Garlicfest 2016, will be held on Sept. 3 and 4 in Bennington, Vt., on the grounds of the Camelot Village antiques and crafts shopping center.
Harrington said that crowds, which were usually around a healthy 10,000, "swelled to more than 15,000 last year" over the two days.
While the celebration is meant to honor and promote all things garlic and herbal, Lindy Lynch, past president of the Bennington Chamber, and a longtime Garlicfest organizer, coordinator and booster, emphasized that it is much more.
"There's something for everyone at Garlicfest," Lynch said, "It's a place where the entire family can come for a day of fun, food, music and exploration. While the theme is most definitely garlic, vendors come from all over the region to complement the family atmosphere."
The Garlic and Herb Festival is the creation of the late Steve Wrathall, who passed away suddenly in 2009 at the age of 52. Two decades ago, Wrathall, longtime chef at the Red Oak Inn in Wilmington, Vt., developed the fête as a magnet event for the mountain tourist haven.
Over the years he and his wife, Joy Dowell, worked so hard on helping the event expand that it eventually outgrew its mountainous milieu.
As such, several years before his death, Wrathall and the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce reached an agreement to keep the festival in Southern Vermont by moving it to a larger town and for the Chamber to assume all responsibility for its functions.
The fit between the festival's founder and its host town was perfect, and its growth indicates the move down the mountain to Bennington was near visionary by Wrathall.
Garlicfest, which over the past few years had grown in attendance as Harrington previously noted, incorporates elements that are steeped in the original garlic and herb motifs. It also offers other activities that cover a broad range of tastes, for both adults and children.
More than 200 vendors will offer up an array of garlic-inspired booths, from garlic popcorn, to garlic wreaths, and even garlic chocolate. There will also be the traditional items for garlic lovers and items for the more adventurous.
Entertainment includes a full food court of more than 20 vendors — another high for the festival. They will include Lemon Love, Pops (popcorn), Bart's Ice Cream, Good To Go (dumplings), Loopy's (crepes, espresso, and smoothies), and Sherri's Crabcakes.
Among the local vendors will be Bennington Lions' Club, Ramunto's Pizza, and Hound Dogs. Harrington said several new food vendors have been added including Reggae Boy Café (Jamaican food), Caja Madera (Mexican food), RJ's Famous, and Vermont Botanical Beverages.
In addition, live music, is a Garlicfest staple. A number of a musical artists will perform. Saturday's acts include Aviva, Hill Hollow, Julie Shea Band, and The Legato Blues Band. Sunday's line-up includes Ray Gifford, Carma, Roadhouse, and Funk in the Trunk.
Ramunto's will also run and sponsor the "Beer and Wine Garden" for both days. Its tent will include Vermont Craft Brews, wine, specialty drinks like Garlic Bloody Marys and Garlic Margaritas, giveaways and raffles all weekend long.
Garlic-centered vendors abound with a bit of the eccentric, such as garlic braiding and weed walks, which extol the virtue of weeds for medicinal purposes.
Going beyond a well-managed event, Garlicfest will strive for social responsibility. Prominent signs will be up to encourage patrons to "drink and stink responsibly," prohibit drinking in the children's area, and remind people there is no smoking, according to local police chief Paul Doucette.
"We wish all events were like Garlicfest," Doucette said. "This is a family friendly event where people from all walks of life can come and have fun. Drinking at the event is done responsibly and very little if any issues ever arise. It's one of our favorite times of the year and we like that Bennington has pulled together another safe event for everyone to attend."
Garlic is global
Traditional cooking demonstrations that have a garlic theme are also popular attractions, as well as the familiar arts and crafts vendors of most regional festivals. Stephen Lawrence, a longtime Garlicfest food vendor and general manager of Spice Root Indian Cuisine in Williamstown, Mass., said that garlic is not just a spice central to the Indian dishes his establishment is known for, but also recognized worldwide in many cuisines.
"Garlic has a global reach, a worldwide appeal and is a wonderful addition to many culinary delights," Lawrence said by phone from Spice Root's Spring St. location in Williamstown. "Many people love how it enhances flavor in a dish. Garlicfest is a great time for the family to indulge in the power of this spice, and have fun, too."
IF YOU GO ...
What: 21st Annual Southern Vermont Garlic and Herb Festival
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 3, 4
Where: Camelot Village, just west of Bennington, Vt., on Vt. Route. 9
Cost: One-day pass $6 online, $8 at the gate for adults; $2 for children; 12 and under enter free; Two-day pass is $10.
Information: 802-447-3311, LoveGarlic.com