NEW BETHLEHEM – The annual New Bethlehem Peanut Butter Festival returns this weekend for three days full of popular events.

While locals are usually well aware of the community’s peanut butter connections, the festival has benefitted over the years from the curiosity of those not familiar.

“People always stop at the festival to ask why New Bethlehem celebrates peanut butter,” festival organizer Dianna Brothers said. “A lot of people from outside the area, and even some locally, aren’t aware that New Bethlehem is home to the J.M. Smucker peanut butter factory.”

The three-day festival, which begins Friday afternoon, Sept. 14, and continues through Sunday, Sept. 16, is held in New Bethlehem’s Gumtown Park, nestled between Water Street and Red Bank Creek near the dam and bridge.

Brothers said the Redbank Valley Chamber of Commerce’s annual event, now in its 23rd year, has grown considerably in that time, and now attracts visitors from all over the region, and even from out of state.

“We’re a known festival now,” she said. “We pull people in from so many places.

“People may travel in from out of state, but we’ve still been able to keep it a festival about community, family and a lot of free entertainment,” she said.

It’s also about peanut butter, too.

The chamber’s tent is stocked each year with all the varieties of peanut butter manufactured locally at the Smucker’s plant. Brothers said they will have the wildly popular chocolate and peanut butter, and honey and peanut butter varieties this year that people can purchase by the jar or case.

“Come early for those, they may not last long,” Brothers said, noting that the chamber also sells festival merchandise at the tent, as well as special peanut butter and chocolate treats made by the festival’s title sponsor, Char-Val Candies.

The festival officially kicks off Friday at 4 p.m. as the numerous food vendors and crafters open, although some will open in time for lunch on Friday. Brothers said more food vendors than ever before will be on hand this year, and the park will also be filled with crafters and other booths.

“We are full,” she said this week. “We are squeezing in a few more food vendors and will have a full range of foods, including wings this year.”

On Friday, the festival’s popular Wine Walk returns from 5 to 8 p.m. Participants with early bird tickets can get started at 4 p.m. Brothers said that the registration for the walk will again be held at Redbank Chevrolet; however, the end-of-the-night wine pickup will be held at the Town Center along Arch Street.

Friday evening’s activities include the crowning of the Peanut Butter Festival queen at 6 p.m. on the stage, followed by the band, Son of Leroy, from 7 to 9 p.m. The evening will conclude with a fireworks display by Ace Pyro.

Brothers said the fireworks had to be moved from the usual Saturday night spot to Friday night due to a private event planned across the creek from the festival at the site from which the fireworks are launched.

Saturday’s lineup starts early with the 5K race at 8 a.m. The race will end on the Redbank Valley Trail near Zack’s restaurant, and awards will be presented there to the runners.

Crafters and vendors open at 9 a.m., the same time that the Peanut Butter Festival Cook-Off judging begins at the Kaminsky Dental building. At 10 a.m. the mountain bike race will get underway along Penn Street before heading into area’s rolling hills.

New this year, a wing eating contest will be held on the stage at 11:30 a.m., featuring super hot wings from local eatery, Zack’s, which will also be set up selling wings in the food area of the festival.

The festival’s large parade will step off at 3 p.m. down Broad Street (Route 28), and the inflatable carnival will be held in the park from 4 to 8 p.m. Ride wristbands will be sold in the chamber’s tent for $5, and they are good for both days.

The evening’s entertainment features country rock band Everett Lee & Underground Stampede with two sets, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and 7:30 to 9 p.m.

“They were a popular band at the festival several years ago, and we’re bringing them back this year,” Brothers said.

On Sunday, the festival starts off with a motorcycle cruise at 10 a.m. The cost is $20 per biker, and $10 per rider. Registration is from 10 to 11 a.m. at S&T Bank. Proceeds from the event benefit the Nancy Cochran Family.

Crafters and vendors open at 11 a.m., and the New Bethlehem Fire Co. will host a chicken dinner at the park from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“On Sunday, we’re starting off on the stage with a lot of local performers,” Brothers said, noting that Brianna Callensburg, Marenna Harmon, Gabriel Spence, Jared Spence, Elisabeth Hook, Alena Keller, David Nagele III and Hope Spence will perform from noon to 1:30 p.m.

The inflatable carnival will be open from noon to 4 p.m., and children will enjoy the return of Kahuna Balloona from 1 to 4 p.m. for balloon creations.

The main event of the day is the annual Knight Cruisers Car Cruise along Water Street, which begins at noon. Registration will be held near Redbank Chevrolet. The first 200 cars will receive dash plaques.

A tractor show will also be held on the lower end of Water Street from noon to 4 p.m. Registration starts at 10:30 a.m., and trophies will be awarded in the following classes: working tractors, show tractors, lawn and garden tractors, miscellaneous tractors, and kids tractors.

The NBC Barbershop Chorus will perform on stage at 2 p.m., followed by Jimmy Swogger and Friends at 3 p.m.

The duck race on Red Bank Creek will be the final event of the afternoon at 3:30 p.m., with the festival closing at 5 p.m.

“It’s going to be a great event this year, and we want everyone to come down to have fun and support the vendors,” Brothers said.

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