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Behind the scenes at CW's Labor Day Festival
Behind the scenes at the Canal Winchester Labor Day Festival is an orchestra of coordination, long hours and relatively few surprises.
Toss in a marriage proposal on the main stage a few years ago-along with hours of entertainment, hundreds of show cars, vendors, food and a blocks-long parade-and you have an idea of the thousands of details facing the 20-member, all-volunteer festival committee.
"We start work in January for the upcoming festival," said Labor Day committee chairman Phil Hanlon. "Twenty of us do most of the work and we work all year long raising funds. In 2011, our budget was more than $50,000. We have 10 different committees and I can't fathom how many hours are donated by our volunteers. Many of our people work on multiple committees and we've all been doing this for a while."
After months of work, committee members spend four days setting up, running and tearing down the festival, which stretches throughout the city and occupies streets, a park and sidewalks.
"I'm there from sun up until the entertainment is done for the night," said Hanlon. "I make a walk-through of the grounds before I head home, then grab a little sleep and come back in the morning."
Dozens of vendors start arriving at a staging area in the Wal-Mart parking lot at 6 p.m. before proceeding at pre-designated intervals to their assigned spaces. Hanlon said vendors previously showed up downtown all at once, but the process is now streamlined and better organized.
Trash removal and facilitating restroom resources are two details adding to the comfort and convenience of festival goers that are addressed by the committee. In previous years, Hanlon would string lights in the restroom area, but now the toilet area is lighted by the company servicing the facilities.
"The Port-a-Potty people said they could provide lighting and it was amazing. It was better than a string of lights," said Hanlon. "You could hear the 'ahhs' from the people and we felt like we were moving up in the world."
Hanlon said Boy Scouts clean up trash two to three times a day during the festival.
"We make a donation to their camp fund for all the work they do for us," said Hanlon.
Festival attendance continues to climb, but one year, participants in the annual car show forced organizers to scramble for space. The event generally draws 175 to 200 participants, but three years ago, the numbers swelled to 300.
Hanlon said vehicles are normally parked on one side of Waterloo Street, but that year, more streets were blocked off and cars were parked clear to Dairy Queen and on the other side of the event area.
Mike Walker, a 10-year member of the Labor Day committee, is in charge of entertainment/equipment rental and coordinates acts for the festival's three stages. Months before musicians and performers entertain audiences, Walker and a handful of volunteers spend two days at a hotel previewing bands and acts for the festival.
"You get to talk directly with the entertainers and it's a great way to find entertainment for the festival," said Walker. "We're really excited with everything that's unfolding this year."
Walker added, "We eventually want to get to the point where we can get someone like Alan Jackson or Kenny Rogers, but that's a dream at this point. We want to get better, but not necessarily bigger."
Dreams are not limited to festival committee members. Eight years ago, Walker assisted his then-future son-in-law's marriage proposal to his daughter, Necole Walker Spencer.
"He's a Franklin County deputy sheriff and got down on one knee on the main stage and proposed to her during the Labor Day Festival," said Walker. "I brought her out on stage under a different pretense and then Scott came out from behind a curtain and through a banner."
The Canal Winchester Labor Day Festival has its early roots in agricultural fairs held at the turn of the 20th century. According to the book, "Canal Winchester: The Second Ninety Years," by Lillian Carroll and Frances Steube, in 1926 the Canal Winchester Fall Festival was held for the first time and a community fair was held in November 1930.
Celebrations continued to grow in popularity. In 1960, a trio of local men proposed a "stay at home" Labor Day event with an 86-unit parade and chicken barbecue dinner served on school grounds. Today, the three-day annual event draws thousands of visitors to the city.
"Come Monday evening, everything gets torn down and put away," said Hanlon. "The city does a fantastic job of cleaning every night and on Tuesday, when the festival is over, you can't tell that anything has happened."
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