Delayed Pumpkin Festival still a success with witch dancers, 120 vendors

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Editor’s note: The below story was edited with new pictures added following the Sunday event.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Chairwoman Elizabeth Featherston says it was an agonizing decision for members of her committee to postpone the town’s Great Pumpkin Festival for the first time in the event’s 16 year history.

But for safety reasons, she says she knew it was the right decision.

The Pumpkin Festival Committee announced Thursday night that the one-day event – which traditionally has always been held on a Saturday – had been moved to Sunday, Sept. 17.

Featherston noted that initially, despite the possible threat from Hurricane Lee, the committee hoped the event could go on as planned. Then, the vendors who set up bounce houses on the grounds of North Smithfield High School each year – the festival typically always features three – informed her that legally, they couldn’t operate with winds stronger than 18-miles-per-hour. Saturday’s weather predicted gusts of up to 40-miles-per-hour.

“It’s not a risk we’re willing to take for the safety of everybody there,” Featherston said. “All we need is one canopy that’s not battened down correctly for something to go wrong.”

And as it turns out, not much changed at the community event, which typically attracts thousands of visitors, due to the delay.

Featherston told NRI NOW Friday afternoon that only 10 of her 130 confirmed participants said they were not available for the alternative date. Three others, not originally scheduled as part of the lineup, asked if they could join.

When gates at the high school fields opened at 11 a.m. Sunday morning, visitors were greeted by the largest festival to date.

New food vendors have signed on in 2023 with options to include Del’s Lemonade, pizza, apple dumplings, Mickey G’s Clam Shack, popcorn, cotton candy, French crepes, smoothies, acai bowls, empanadas and more.

The Southern New England Witch Dance Troupe takes a break and strikes a pose.

“None of the food vendors have backed out,” Featherston said.

There were free activities for kids, including Pumpkin Patch for younger children, and while the kids played, parents visited a nearby masseuse, thanks to a service offered by Gold Door Realty. The festival featured an extensive raffle section, race cars, Gaga ball, a Zoomobile, a dunk tank, a smoke house, alpacas, a face painter and of course, Bobo the Clown – an event staple – making balloon animals.

Kamil Sarji of Gold Door Realty shows off a second face, thanks to face-painters athis business’s booth.

For the first time in 2023, the Southern New England Witch Dance Troupe performed choreographed routines at the festival, in full costume. The troupe, which emerged onto the event circuit last year, was co-founded by artistic director and Jamestown resident Bernie Courtney and former dance associate Jennifer Fava, and performs choreography from the original German Wolfshäger Hexenbruts.

Courtney, a professional choreographer for over three decades, also includes her own original work in the troupe’s repertoire.

“I want to choreograph unique dances we can perform at specific events and venues,” Courtney said. “For last month’s Pagan Pride Day we premiered ‘Healing Dance’ and for the Pumpkin Festival we have a new surprise work to showcase.”

Entertainment was altered a bit due to wet fields, but Charlie Marie was still in attendance.

Charlie Marie

The RE/MAX Stearns McGee Team were able to offer hot air balloon rides on Sunday, and the usual bowling and mini golf booths were also cancelled.

This time around, the event also had to share space with the X-press Football Program and as a result, the upper parking lot and North Smithfield Middle School parking lot were off-limits for festival guests. But the committee has made arrangements for shuttle buses from North Smithfield Elementary School and those who utilized the buses were able to attend the festival free of charge.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to make it easier and safer for people to come,” Featherston said.

The shuttle and free admission, Featherston noted, were made possible through a large donation from Landmark Medical Center.

She notes the decision to delay was not an easy one. At a two and a half hour-long meeting Thursday night, committee members sat around a table making calls to the football program, school officials and DATTCO to set up buses. Police and fire chiefs had to sign off on the new date – and ensure police detail would still be available. Emails were sent to the 130 vendors, and 40 responded with questions.

“It kind of felt like NASA,” she said.

She notes that nearly everyone in the community quickly stepped up to help, sharing the news and adjusting their schedules.

“I grew up in a small town, and even though North Smithfield is a little bigger, it still has that small town roll up your sleaves mentality,” Featherston said. “It’s been awesome. It warms my heart.”

Violet Savoie and Axel Leahy celebrate after a long day of face painting.

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