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As the humidity drops, sunshine becomes more mellow and breezes distribute whiffs of dry leaves, Chautauqua County prepares for autumn. Though the fall season tends to conjure images of bonfires, apple picking and pumpkin carving, the harvest festival predates all these traditions.
Harvest festivals date back to ancient times and have been an established tradition since the 16th century, when townspeople would gather to celebrate the completion of successful harvests. The merriment could last for days and include dancing, singing, activities, and of course, a feast.
Modern festivals retain that atmosphere of celebration, and New York certainly has a bounty of thriving farms and businesses to take pride in. The hamlet of Findley Lake offers an array of boutiques, specialty shops, inns and restaurants, making it the ideal location for Findley Lake Harvest Fest 2016, Friday to Sunday, September 2 through 4. For details, see the poster on page 12.
Findley Lake Harvest Festival
Findley Lake’s free annual Harvest Fest draws 10,000 to 12,000 attendees from as far away as Buffalo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, according to Larry Gross, owner of Our Own Candle Company and chairperson of the festival.
“Our Own Candle Company sponsors the festival; we inherited it, since it’s been in Findley Lake longer than we have. Everybody at Our Own Candle Company, along with people from the community, volunteers at the festival,” Gross said.
The festival continues to evolve, with an emphasis on bringing fresh vendors and attractions each year. “This is the festival’s 19th year, and every year it gets bigger. There’s enough going on that people come here for two or three days.”
“You can sit and talk to people at the beer tent and hear stories from all over. It’s great to hear from people who, after coming here for the first time, realize the good things we have here [in Findley Lake],” Gross said.
The atmosphere of the beer tent — and the festival as a whole — encourages story-swapping and friendly encounters. “The sense of camaraderie reminds me of the old days when people would stop and talk to each other while walking down the street,” Nancy Sonney, President of the Findley Lake Chamber of Commerce, said.
One of the many benefits of a local festival that draws thousands of people from the surrounding areas is the diverse range of experience and interest present in one location. The four-block festival provides ample opportunity to meet new people and learn about Findley Lake and other communities.
Live Music and Cold Brews
The beer tent will offer a variety of craft brews and the chance to converse with locals and visitors alike. The tent also serves as the venue for many of the musical acts performing throughout the weekend, so come sip a craft beer and listen to one of the eight bands performing throughout the weekend.
The carefully-selected bands come from a 50-mile radius to perform at the festival. “We have music from 6 p.m. on Friday to 6 p.m. on Sunday, but it usually goes even longer. The bands overlap and jam together, so that there’s no downtime between sets,” Gross said.
“Not many festivals focus on the kids,” Gross said. The festival has a large carnival-style area designated to eliciting gleeful grins from young festival-goers just out of diapers to those in middle school.
“The grass is totally filled up with crafts and activities going on for both parents and kids,” he continued. One exciting feature this year will be the inflatable obstacle course and bounce houses.
“There’s one specifically for little kids and one just for older kids, which not a lot of places have,” Lori Wagner added. Wagner, Vice President of the Findley Lake Chamber of Commerce, also works for Our Own Candle Company.
The Kid’s Carnival area has a three-dollar admission fee, but children — and their parents — are welcome to participate in activities as long as they wish. “You can come and go all day long without having to pay again,” Sonney said.
All proceeds from the Kid’s Carnival go back into supporting the Harvest Fest. “Kids won’t want to leave,” Gross promised.
New and Rediscovered Treasures
The festival offers local businesses, artists and antiques dealers the opportunity to showcase their wares in tents throughout the festival area. “My favorite part of the festival is seeing the crafters and other vendors. The festival has such a nice variety of art and antiques: a little of this and a little of that. There are different vendors every year, which makes it interesting,” Sonney said.
An antique show enables festival-goers to discover treasures from bygone eras and even purchase an antique or vintage piece to take home. “The entire fire hall is full of antiques for sale by private dealers. That’s 10,000 to 12,000 square feet of antiques,” Gross said.
If modern craftsmanship sparks your interest, stop by the art exhibit at the gazebo. Admire the talent of local artisans and pick up a piece that has potential to one day be a valuable antique. “Local artists — pottery dealers, photographers, woodworkers and more — come together for our art show,” Gross said.
The vendors dotting Findley Lake during the festival present a rainbow of food, craft, art and service options. Bill Simpkins, Sales Manager of Our Own Candle Company, flipped through a tall stack of vendor applications. “We try to get as much of a variety as possible without having overlap,” he said. Over 25 art and food vendors are currently registered, but more may be present.
“The vendors sell a little bit of everything. They have tents set up with everything from tarot card readings to jewelry to artists to other handmade products,” Gross said. “This will be our biggest year of food vendors yet. We’ll have everything from Japanese food to sausage sandwiches,” he continued.
Findley Lake and Beyond
“The Finley Lake Harvest Fest is self-sustaining thanks to local merchants who donate money to the festival and feature various specials throughout the weekend,” Gross said. There is no charge to participate in the weekend’s festivities; even the musical entertainment is free.
The festival takes place rain or shine. “In 19 years we’ve never been rained out,” Gross said, rapping his knuckles on the wooden desktop.
Come experience the Findley Lake Harvest Fest — a big festival in a small town — and support local artists, chefs, musicians and businesspeople. “The festival really helps out the Findley Lake and surrounding communities,” Simpkins said.
Stop by the festival and stay in Findley Lake for an afternoon or for the weekend. What better way to close out the summer than with this multi-faceted festival designed to appeal to everyone? Make attending this autumn event a tradition. “It’s a great showcase of the community,” Gross concluded.
The Findley Lake Harvest Fest takes place Friday Sept. 2 through Sunday Sept. 4. Visit findleylakeinfo.org or visit the event’s Facebook page for details.