Last year, the Town of Leesburg’s annual Flower & Garden Festival was among the first large-scale events to be canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak. This year, town leaders are committed to bringing it back, although there won’t be thousands of visitors packed into the downtown historic district.
Instead, garden enthusiasts will celebrate the annual rite of spring in the wide-open spaces of Ida Lee Park. At least that’s the plan.
The switch from downtown to a more open-air location follows a trend among event organizers who are ready to use their 10 months of COVID-19 data collection to fulfill the community’s desire to again have some safe and healthy fun.
Since Gov. Ralph Northam’s initial executive order last March, businesses and municipalities have been operating at limited capacities. Many shuttered entirely for a few weeks to a few months during 2020. None of those organizations have returned to normal operations, and the towns have hosted few community events at all since last February.
Now, many are prepping plans for community events in 2021—events tailored down to fit state and federal regulations on gatherings.
Leesburg Parks and Recreation Events and Outreach Manager Linda Fountain said town leaders are planning all usual events for 2021, although that task has been a challenge thus far. Fountain said the town staff constantly monitors updates from the Virginia Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the governor’s office.
Last year, the town’s events were either held virtually, with a limited number of participants, or designed to be contactless with limited social gatherings. The town also looked at new ways of hosting events, such as by holding them outdoors, which is what it did with the Holiday Fine Arts & Crafts Show in December at Freedom Park.
The town took the big leap on Monday, with the announcement that the 31st annual Flower & Garden Festival will be held April 17-18 at Ida Lee Park with COVID-19-related protocols in place.
Deputy Director of Parks & Recreation Kate Trask said the move would allow for better social distancing; somewhere between 70 and 80 vendors will set their displays up in every other parking space in the lower few parking lots.
“[W]e are all hopeful that the [COVID-19] positivity rate will be waning come springtime so the festival can be held,” Trask stated. “We’ve missed hosting our community events.”
Fountain said planning events in 2021 is “a continuous process” in which town leaders are placing the safety of the community, staff and vendors at the forefront.
“Using the guidelines that are in place and the creativity of our staff, we hope to produce quality events, give the community an opportunity to get out of the hours and give our vendors the opportunity to do business,” she said.
The Hamilton Town Council set up an Events Committee at the end of 2020 to better organize the town’s annual events, like the Christmas Eve luminaries display and Hamilton Day. The committee is comprised of six members, including two Town Council members and Cari Michon, who has been organizing the luminaries display for years.
Councilman Craig Green, who serves as the committee’s chairman, said town leaders are hoping COVID-19 restrictions relax a bit by Memorial Day, when Hamilton Day is typically held, so they can host the 5K race, the parade and the culminating event at the Hamilton Community Park. Green said the town would at least honor the fifth-grade Hamilton Elementary School graduates, perhaps with a socially distant car parade around town.
“That’s the very least that we would do,” he said.
The Events Committee also is looking to organize movies and other events in the park, which is perhaps the most children’s park in all of western Loudoun.
“We get a lot of traffic there and it blows our mind,” Green said.
The Town of Hillsboro is looking to host its first event of the year, the Independence Day Celebration, on July 2, although Vice Mayor Amy Marasco said the celebration this year would be a “much smaller event.” Still, the town has fireworks it didn’t use last year when the celebration was canceled.
Marasco said town leaders also are planning nine Friday night concerts and are in talks with bands. She said the concerts would be open to the public, but probably by registration only, to limit crowd sizes.
As for other events, Marasco said the town might have to cancel its April Gardens in the Gap event for a second consecutive year, but should be poised to host the Christmas Market in December. Town leaders are also planning some sort of grand re-opening event following the conclusion of the Rt. 9 traffic calming project in April, but Marasco said that may not be held until June.
“Were optimistically cautious but we’re hopeful we can have some sort of community events,” she said about the year ahead.
The Town of Lovettsville typically plans several large-scale events each year. Oktoberfest, held the last weekend in September, brings in more than 10,000 visitors. In summer, the town holds its Summer on the Green series in which families watch movies and attend concerts on the Town Green. And in May, the town holds its first event of the year, MayFest. Last year, the town canceled Oktoberfest and MayFest, and canceled the remainder of its summer series events by July.
Interim Town Manager Sam Finz said the Town Council would discuss event planning options in more detail during an upcoming session intended to outline event committee restructuring.
Finz also cut more than $21,000 from the town’s Event Fund in his proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget to account for a presumably less eventful year amid the pandemic. The Town Council will discuss the Event Fund more at its Feb. 4 budget work session.
The Town of Middleburg is focused on its biennial Foxes on the Fence event, scheduled to span from April 1 to May 17. The event will see 40-50 cutouts of foxes, hounds and hares provided by local artists displayed around town for passersby to admire and later purchase in a May 9 online auction. Proceeds from those sales will benefit town beautification projects and promote arts in the town through the Middleburg Beautification and Preservation Committee and the Middleburg Arts Council.
Economic Development Director Jamie Gaucher said the event “is very conducive to the current health crisis.” Middleburg Arts Council Chairwoman Mary Ann Burns said that’s because the event is all outdoors and is spread out among more than six weeks, so visitors aren’t gathering in town in one place all at once.
“People don’t feel rushed,” Burns said. “It’s a perfect COVID event in that respect.”
The Arts Council also isn’t charging businesses to sponsor the event this year.
“We didn’t want to tax them with any extra expenses,” Burns said.
While the Foxes on the Fence event typically culminates in the biannual Art in the ‘Burg event, Gaucher said that event is still up in the air, with COVID-19-related restrictions blocking the foresight needed to effectively plan ahead. Burns said the Arts Council is, however, still preparing to send out its first call to artists for the event. And if the event is held this year, the artists’ booths will be spaced out all across town instead of all being positioned next to each other on Madison Street, Burns said.
To further help the community amid the pandemic, artists participating in the event are also planning to create sculptures out of canned goods, which will then be disassembled at the close of the event and donated to the Seven Loaves Services food bank.
Parks and Recreation Division Manager Amie Ware said town leaders are still exploring options for events in 2021 but will make decisions “in the near future.”
In a typical year, the town puts on its annual Loudoun Grown Expo, which was held in February last year; an Independence Day event, which it condensed to a vehicles-only parade last year; the Music and Arts Festival and the Wine & Food Festival, both of which it canceled last year; the Green Expo, which it hosted virtually last year; and Christmas in Purcellville, which went almost entirely virtual last year with a virtual holiday market, ornament workshop and Lego train display, but also included a socially distant holiday lights tour.
While Round Hill town leaders plan one large event each year in May, the Hometown Festival, Town Administrator Melissa Hynes said that with restrictions on gatherings still in place, they’re planning to move the event to October, once restrictions— hopefully—are relaxed a bit.
Mayor Scott Ramsey said the committee in charge of planning the festival is working to save the date with key vendors and partners and is discussing how to adjust the event to accommodate changes in daylight hours and expected temperatures. He said serious preparations won’t pick up until May or June.
“We hope we can confidently gather together again as a community then,” he said.
Andrea Khoury, the president of the Khoury Media Group that heads public relations for One Loudoun, said organizers at the town center are working through a tentative schedule of events for 2021, but are waiting to see what comes from Northam’s office.
Courtney Tolson, the marketing manager for Rappaport, which manages the Village at Leesburg, said her team is not planning any traditional events for 2021 as of yet, citing safety as their top priority. She said Rappaport is waiting to see how the pandemic plays out as more people get vaccinated.
The Village at Leesburg in January hosted its Winter Wanderland, inviting visitors each weekend to grab a drink and roam through the center admiring ice sculptures. In February, the town center will set up a photo-op wall, specifically for Valentine’s Day. Tolson said Rappaport also could host smaller, pop-up style events once the weather warms up.
Breweries and Wineries
Old Ox Brewery, which operates locations in Ashburn and Middleburg, is moving ahead with its Beer My Valentine event the weekend of Feb. 13-14 in Ashburn. Burns, whose day job is to work alongside her family managing the brewery, said that event is conducive to COVID-related restrictions because it sees parties of only two situated six feet apart from each other.
Burns said the Old Ox management team has also already booked music for its Porktoberfest event on Labor Day weekend in September in Ashburn and could start booking music in August for its Oktoberfest event.
Old Ox is also the beer vendor for Great Meadow’s Independence Day Celebration in The Plains, which was canceled last year but could go on this year, albeit with a scaled-back format, said Executive Director Carrie Hull.
Breaux Vineyards General Manager Jennifer Breaux said her team is planning events the same as they’ve been planning them for months, and not as if the world has found its way out of the pandemic yet.
This year’s Valentine’s Day chocolate and cabernet tasting event is now a self-guided experience to better socially distance in the tasting room. And the winery’s Mardi Gras event this year is not being advertised as an official event, since doing so would attract more people, Breaux said. Instead, Breaux said this year’s celebration, on Feb. 13, will be run as a normal business day in which customers can make reservations to enjoy Cajun food and live music.
“We’re not giving up but we are certainly modifying,” Breaux said.
Another modification at the winery this year is a switch to virtual events. This Friday, Breaux will host a virtual chef’s table dinner, in which celebrity chef Charlie Loomis will guide participants through the cooking of a Creole-inspired dinner, which will be paired with Breaux wines.
“I think it’s all about reinventing yourself right now,” Breaux said, adding that she’s hopeful her winery’s operations can return to some kind of normalcy by fall.
Reporter Kara C. Rodriguez contributed to this report.