Editorial: New England really knows how to welcome fall

  • Pumpkingames are a highlight of the annual Ashfield Fall Festival. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Friday, October 06, 2017

The fabled New England fall foliage may be a bust so far year, but that hasn’t stopped Franklin County from busting out all over — in fairs, festivals and classic Yankee fun this long Columbus Day weekend, at the peak of our leaf-peeping season.

It’s vintage Franklin County, with multiple fairs and festivals — distant descendants of the ancient English harvest home festivals, when the forebears of our earliest settlers celebrated a successful harvest with food, song and dance, ahead of the cold and dark winter.

Every year it seems we add another festival to the roster that for years has included favorites like the Ashfield Fall Festival, Conway’s Festival of the Hills, and the Heath Fair.

This weekend features several events, including a newcomer in Leyden, which this year is being inaugurated as Heartbreak of the Hills, so named because it was originally conceived around a road race up Frizzell Hill. Like most of our town fairs, this one is intended to entertain, tout the town’s virtues to tourists and perhaps make a little money for a local charity.

Chief organizer Dan Galvis, the town’s police chief, has built Leyden’s fair around the theme of antique tractors, so omnipresent in the small agriculture town of about 700.

“I could see 100 (tractors) showing up,” says Galvis, who envisions the start of a new annual tradition, perhaps to be renamed more appropriately the Leyden Fall Farm Festival.

There’s lots of competition for our autumnal attention this weekend, big and small, old and new.

Started in 1969, Ashfield Fall Festival returns with its quirky collection of crafts, art exhibits, locally grown and prepared foods, live music and dance and its signature Pumpkingames. Where else would a call go out for donated zucchini so children can enjoy endless strings of pumpkin bowling?

Food is a big part of the Ashfield tradition, and fair-goers travel from all over to eat blueberry cobbler from St. John’s Episcopal Church, fried dough with maple creme from Gray’s Sugarhouse, hot applesauce sundaes from Ashfield Hardware and authentic New Orleans crawfish pasta from Elmer’s.

To the northeast, tiny Warwick holds its eighth annual Old 78 Farm Fall Festival that pulls people in with loads of music. The organizers, owners of Simon Says Booking in Orange, aim to bring “high quality entertainment, craft and food symbolizing autumn to the Pioneer Valley community and beyond” with rock, bluegrass, jazz and reggae.

Music, food and drink are also at the heart of Greenfield’s Riverside Blues, Brews & BBQ Festival, at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. The festival features a Northeast Barbecue Society Grilling Contest, Kansas City Barbeque Society BBQ Contest, Lefty’s Brewing Company brew tent, live blues music, People’s Choice BBQ Samplin’ Pit and more. Contests include a stein hoisting competition, keg toss, barrel roll and a fling-a-frank competition.

And if this weekend can’t sate your appetite for festivals, later in the month sees other fairs built around pumpkin and scarecrow themes in Montague and Bernardston. All this fall pageantry and celebration wraps up like a climatic fireworks starburst in November ahead of the holidays, with a Cider Days celebration at several venues around the county.

We may not have bright foliage this year, but we sure have more than our share of brilliant ideas for celebrating the season.