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Behind the scenes: Planning the Reisterstown Festival

Snow princesses Izzy Cohen, left, and Shayna Rothenberg, of The Princess Company, in Owings Mills, wait to greet guests at the Reisterstown Festival Sept. 13. _- Original Credit: Elaina Clarke/Staff photo

This year, the Reisterstown Festival, scheduled for Sept. 10 and 11, will celebrate its 30th anniversary. And although the event isn't for almost six months, the planning committee is already well into preparations to make it a smashing success.

"Officially we start [planning] in January, but unofficially we start right after the last festival," committee chairwoman Sherri Brogan said.

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Planning the annual festival, which is a program of the Reisterstown Recreation Council, is a yearlong process, and while it might seem like it takes a village to put it together, it's really only organized by a little more than a dozen Reisterstown residents — all of whom are volunteers.

"All our work is done after hours or on weekends or nights or whatever," said Wayne Caplan, who handles rentals of vendor booths and food vendors.

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Meetings begin in January and are held on the third Wednesday of the month in the conference room at Hannah More School in Reisterstown until closer to the event, when they are held more frequently.

"It's a lot of work to organize this event so you have to start planning early; you have to line up your bands early; you have to understand your budget early," said Brogan, who is in her eighth year with the festival. "We're out here trying to meet and greet new potential booth vendors, and it takes time to do this. We attend other festivals. It just takes time."

With only 16 volunteers planning a weekend event that can see more than 10,000 attendees, it's not uncommon for organizers to wear multiple hats. And, though meetings don't start until January, several volunteers get started on their projects long before.

"When our meetings start in January, I've already put in a months' work or more," Caplan said.

Caplan said he starts speaking with potential vendors in December.

"And then my wife and I probably go to 20 fairs in the spring, maybe even more," he said. "I do it to solicit new vendors. I do it to see what that fair or festival is doing that maybe we could do, what they're doing differently good or bad that we could maybe improve on. I do it to see maybe some of the big sponsors of that fair that maybe we could solicit them as sponsors for us."

Stewart Richardson, 48, is in charge of booking the event's musical entertainment as well as handling social media and Web content. He said he starts band planning around March 1, but the web component is "kind of a year-round thing."

Each person's time commitment is directly related to the role they choose to have.

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"I don't want anyone to be thrown off when I say that it's a year-round commitment because in some cases if you're not a chair and you're assisting a chair, it's a few hours that we're asking from people a month to dedicate to help us," Brogan said.

The flexibility makes participating more feasible for volunteers like 35-year-old mom Carrie Gorham, who coordinates the raffle baskets.

"I try to go around to all the local businesses first and so really my process doesn't even really start until like June-ish, I'll start to get people interested and things like that," she said.

As the mother of 4-year-old son Johnathan, she said, the ability to have a flexible schedule is very important.

"I go to a couple of meetings here and there; I usually come and go to the initial ones," she said. "Really I just hone in on my one department and just get it done."

Planning the festival is a labor of love for the volunteers, many of whom joined the committee because they wanted to help make the event better for the community.

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"All I know is, as a festivalgoer, I didn't find it very exciting, there wasn't a whole lot there for me," said Caplan, who is entering his fourth year on the committee, "and I thought y'know, I was one of those people that said 'they should do this, they should do that,' and I figured if I'm on the committee maybe I can help change it."

Richardson, who is also in his fourth year with the festival, said he originally got involved because he had some ideas about music and "decided to go ahead and go to a meeting."

Richardson said he enjoys the many hats he wears as part of the festival committee. But oftentimes, he said, juggling so many tasks can be a struggle — which is one reason the group is constantly looking for new volunteers.

"Last year, I have to admit and I did admit that I probably went overboard in terms of the amount of time I spent and that's not sustainable, and I think that a few people were at that level. And it's partially because we're all pretty passionate and we want to go that extra mile … but to make it truly sustainable and to reduce the stress level and make it more enjoyable and make it better, you definitely need people," he said.

More volunteers are needed, Brogan said, "because [16] of us are carrying the job of 24 of us or 30 of us. You can never have too many volunteers."

Beyond that, Brogan said, the committee is constantly striving to better the event by listening to new ideas and learning from criticism.

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"Obviously we could use more people," she said. "We could use more hands; we could use more ideas. Fresh minds bring fresh ideas and we are 100 percent interested in hearing what people want to say."

But if people are going to criticize, Caplan said, they should try to take part in the planning to help address their concerns.

"People are so eager to complain and critisize but when we ask for them to come on the festival committee and help, they're nowhere to be found," he said. "So there are reasons why things are done a certain way, why the festival's where it is, why the hours are the hours … there's a lot of reasons why all those things happen that people don't know about because they're not on the committee. We don't need 50 people to be on the committee, we just need people to help."

For the committee, the festival is about more than just two days of fun — it's a way to bring Reisterstown together as a community and as a neighborhood.

"It's the biggest event in town and a free asset that everybody has … so I mean without it a lot less connections would be made in the community," Richardson said. "A lot of people wouldn't know some of the businesses in the community. It's important on a lot of levels. But mainly it's for people like me who see the importance in knowing their neighbors and knowing their town. It's a very valuable thing … if it weren't for events like this, everybody would basically go to their jobs and come home every day and not know half the things going on around [here]."

After all, Richardson said, after 30 years, the festival has become a staple in the Reisterstown community.

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"It's come to have this great history and tradition and so it's sort of an asset our community can't really afford to lose. It's too good of a thing," he said. "Considering that it only takes a group of about 10 to 15 people to put it on, it would be a terrible shame if we ever lost it."

But beyond unifying the community, committee members agreed, it also serves as a way to show neighboring communities all that Reisterstown has to offer.

"It just seems like the festival is a good way to promote Reisterstown; it brings the community together, it brings some awareness to the area," Caplan said.

"That's what we kind of hope to do is build this festival into something bigger that shines a big light on this area, and it's extremely entertaining; I love to be a part of it," Richardson said.

The number of people working on the festival might be few but, Brogan said, what they lack in numbers they make up for in dedication.

"All of us live in the community … every single one of us is a Reisterstown resident and we love where we live, we love this community. It really is a great festival," she said. "Honestly where can you go for two days and pretty much have free really good music, have outdoor activities, have free things for your children to do? I think our community shines this weekend and I think all of us love being a part of that."

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For more information about the Reisterstown Festival, visit www.reisterstownfest.com. To learn more about volunteering, email committee@reisterstownfest.com or visit www.facebook.com/The.Reisterstown.Festival.

Elaina.clarke@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-3316

Twitter.com/Ctimes_ROMG


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