NEWPORT — Three years ago, the board of directors of the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce decided a fall “shoulder season” festival was just what the city needed. Last weekend, it became a reality with the opening of the Newport Cider Festival at the National Guard Armory.
While the final numbers are still being totaled, Interim Chamber Executive Director Bobbi Price said about 3,500 attendees flocked to the armory to sample Pacific Northwest cider, listen to music, check out a variety of crafts and eat and drink in a family-friendly atmosphere.
Price termed the festival “a wonderful event. We’re just so thrilled by its success,” she said.
“We had good turnout both days — it was steady from the very beginning,” Price added on Monday as she helped with cleanup at the armory. “We had a line at the door ready to come in when we opened on Friday, and crowds were pleasantly steady all day. And Saturday it was nice and crowded. I wouldn’t be surprised if we outgrow our location.”
Chamber Marketing Manager Julia Ryan explained the board of directors wanted another off-season event. “We used to do Scaryoke in the fall but wanted to transition to something more open to tourists,” Ryan said. “We wanted the Cider Festival to be a successful event that draws in people from out of town as well as locals, and celebrates the harvest season in Oregon — and we wanted them to have fun.”
Price noted that the Northwest Cider Association describes cider as the fastest growing beverage in the United States, and said the Newport Chamber wanted to get in at the ground level of that growth.
“People who like cider like the Oregon coast, so it was a perfect match,” Price said, adding while she didn’t do the final count, 90 percent of the e-ticket sales — tickets purchased online in advance of the festival — were from out-of-towners. “But we saw a great number of locals come in and buy their tickets at the door. People are ready to come back next year!”
Price said comments from festivalgoers were “amazingly positive. I heard a lot of comments about how well the Kids Zone was executed — we had bubbles, sidewalk chalk, freeze painting, apple rolling. And Americana Mayhem did hula-hoops and juggling with the kids. The whole environment felt very family-friendly.”
Will there be a second annual Cider Festival? Definitely, Price said, noting it is scheduled for the first weekend of October 2020.
Most of the weekend’s vendors were from Oregon, and while hard cider was the focal point, there was something to drink for everyone, including non-alcoholic cider, kombucha, tea, wine, local beer and locally brewed coffee. In addition, Correll Cider Presses of Veneta demonstrated how to press cider and gave out non-alcoholic samples of the freshly pressed, quintessential autumn beverage. Locals also helped fill the bill for music, food trucks and crafts.
Interest was so high that four cideries sold out on Saturday prior to closing time, and Price said the chamber issued discounted tickets so attendees would make sure to get their money’s worth. The evening concluded with music from Adam Larson & Co., with attendees out on the floor to dance.
Newport’s eminently successful Seafood and Wine Festival, now coming into its 43rd year, started small at the armory as well. “We wanted to go back to the roots of Seafood and Wine, and do something more intimate with the Cider Festival,” Ryan explained.
Price, who will return to her previous position as festival manager later this month as a new director comes on board, will now be concentrating her energy on plans for the Seafood and Wine Festival.
“We’ll be placing the Seafood and Wine vendors next week,” she said. “I’ve been simultaneously working the two festivals for a while and now it will be full force Seafood and Wine.”
That event will take place Feb. 20-23.
But Newport’s newest festival already carved out a spot on the calendar for the years ahead.
“The Cider Festival had wonderful, positive energy,” Price concluded. We were thrilled that it came off so successfully.”
Editor’s note: Leslie O’Donnell is a former News-Times managing editor. She recently moved back to Lincoln County and will be a contributing writer from time to time.