In one of George Carlin's classic comedy routines, a quiz show contestant won an all-expenses paid vacation to … Dover, Del. This weekend, the joke definitely is on Carlin.
The 77th annual Dover Days Festival, running today through Sunday, is so crammed with activities — parades, arts and crafts demonstrations, music performances and historic tours — that 15,000 people crowd the grounds each year. (Though the Festival dates back to 1930, it took a break for a few years during World War II.)
"Even though Saturday is the festival's main day, we urge out-of-town visitors to stay overnight," says Robin Coventry, Director of Public Relations & Special Events for the Kent County, Delaware Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"There's so much to see and do. We're bursting at the seams this year."
Festival highlights include:
•Firing on all cylinders. For the first time, the Dover Days lineup will feature a car show, with hot rods, imports and antique autos competing for trophies awarded to the top 10 vehicles.
"Last year, we had a cruise-in with a free outdoor concert and barbecue dinner," Coventry says. "It was so popular that this year, we decided to upgrade it to a judged car show."
Participants can purchase a chance to win a 2010 C Class Mercedes and can also get a first-hand look at a Tesla Electric Car, billed as the world's first mass-produced electric vehicle.
•Open house — with a vengeance. Dover Days began as a home and garden show, and this year, the popular house tour has more than doubled, to 48 homes spread throughout Kent County. Some homes will be open on Saturday and others on Sunday.
"The homes on the tour were built in the 18th and 19th centuries and are very well preserved," Coventry says. "There's a huge plantation south of Dover, along with examples of Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian architecture. The tour includes churches and an old shipyard built in the middle of the 18th century that is still in use today."
Tickets cost $15 to tour the homes in just one community and $30 for all four towns, with proceeds going to local historical societies.
•Everyone loves a parade. Dover Days loves them so much they will have two: the "official" float-a-thon kicking off the celebration at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, and a promenade for costumed pets at 2 p.m.
The opening parade has 160 different units, from camels to miniature horses. "We have five bands, a horse-drawn stagecoach from California, floats and big-wheeled bicycles," Coventry says. The parade will wind down State Street, and the reviewing stand will be in Dover's historic Green. Immediately after the parade, children attired in colonial garb will dance around the Maypole.
The leashed event, in contrast, is open to all comers — dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, and yes, even goldfish — assuming that each pawed, winged, scaled and finned participant is appropriately attired and accompanied by a human. Prizes will be awarded for the best animal costumes. The entrance fee of $5 in advance and $10 the day of the parade will be donated to two animal charities.
•This and that Dover Days features a truly staggering array of activities.
Visitors can participate in a karoake contest, enjoy tea at the home of Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, or get an appraisal for that old pewter pitcher they inherited from grandma. Festivalgoers can root for their favorite contestants in a chili cook-off, watch a craftsman cut blocks of wood with string, attend an exhibit on Delaware's underground railroad, or listen to a concert of the Dover Symphony Orchestra.
And that's just a small sampling.
"The festival honors Delaware's age-old traditions, but each year, we add new events," Coventry says. "We like to keep Dover Days fresh and looking to the future."