I don’t particularly like apples, crafts or crowds, but I had a perfectly pleasant time in Darlington Saturday for the village’s annual Apple Festival.
Nearly a quarter-century old now, the Apple Festival has become a staple of early October for residents of Harford County and beyond. Its popularity has been a blessing and a curse.
What started innocently enough in 1986, when a spring strawberry festival morphed into a fall apple festival, has now become the largest one-day outdoor event in Harford County – drawing about 50,000 visitors, according to the official Darlington Apple Festival attendee booklet.
Flipping through that booklet, a cursory count shows the festival now has 300 or so vendors and a 19-person volunteer committee running the show. At 52-pages, the booklet itself can say a lot about the face of the festival. This year it contains content from about 40 advertisers and 9 politicians.
Though still teeming with the apples, hayrides and home cooking that made it such a hit to begin with, the Darlington Apple Festival now features vendors, events and attractions that aren’t so local, that are a little too commercialized and that don’t necessarily have the best interest of the village and county communities at heart.
Rather than the Havre de Grace Art Show, Bel Air Festival for the Arts and Darlington Apple Festival each being uniquely local events displaying the best the communities have to offer, they now blend together in an indistinguishable blur. The same vendors, same crafts, same items, same Native American guy blowing into a wooden flute.
Once upon a time, traffic didn’t back up on Route 1 into Dublin, Darlington residents didn’t offer up their driveways for parking at $5 a pop, and school buses weren’t needed to truck in the waves of out-of-towners.
As the Baltimore suburbs continue to grow, these local country fairs and festivals have become a hot commodity. The Harford County Farm Fair resembles Preakness. The Jarrettsville carnival was a mad house this year. I suppose we can expect the Webster Peach Festival to be the next to go commercial.
Remember a few years ago when the fields at Darlington Elementary School were so torn and muddied following a rainy weekend that there were questions about whether the Apple Festival should ever return?
I wonder how many Darlington residents were happy to see the festival back and bigger than ever. Then again, those residents of the village get to enjoy the true pleasantries of Darlington 365 days a year.
For everyone else, Darlington is just another stop on a seasons-long extravaganza of swatting yellow jackets, perusing Baltimore Ravens memorabilia, and dropping $4 on a soda.