NEW BETHLEHEM – The 25th anniversary of New Bethlehem’s Peanut Butter Festival will be celebrated as the popular event returns after a year’s hiatus due to the pandemic.
While last year’s festival would have been the 25th version of the New Bethlehem event, organizers said it’s even more important this year to celebrate something big like the silver anniversary to mark the return of the Peanut Butter Festival after it was forced to be canceled a year ago.
“It was like starting over again,” said Gennie Gerow, events coordinator for the Redbank Valley Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the festival. She noted that taking a year off presented a number of challenges as vendors, volunteers and others were out of the annual routine. “We have 24 years of history to learn from, but people got out of the ‘swing’ of doing things last year.”
Still, she said, everything is coming together great for the Sept. 17-19 event, which will be held in Gumtown Park, nestled between Red Bank Creek and Water Street in New Bethlehem.
“It’s going to be a fun-filled three days with something for everyone to do,” Gerow said.
The festival traces its roots back to early 1996, with the then-named New Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce. Although the Redbank Valley hosts the Clarion County Fair each summer, the chamber was looking to bring an event to New Bethlehem itself, something to call its own.
Planning had begun, but took on even more significance after the devastating flood on July 19, 1996 that ravaged the New Bethlehem area and other communities in the area. The park where the festival would be held was under several feet of water in July that year, and organizers considered canceling the fledgling event, but decided to move forward to give the hard-hit community something to enjoy amid the cleanup efforts that September.
Over the years, the festival has endured a number of other historic events, including in 2001 when it was held just days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America. And in 2004 when the festival was all set up to go, only to be forced to evacuate Gumtown Park when floodwaters from the remnants of Hurricane Ivan washed over the area.
Then, of course, came the COVID-19 pandemic, and the festival’s cancellation in 2020.
“This year we’re back,” Gerow said, pointing to a busy three-day schedule with many returning events, and some new events as well.
One of those new features will be the chamber’s cooperation with the Redbank Valley Historical Society, which will showcase its new headquarters in the landmark bank tower building along Broad Street during a three-day Quilt Show. The show will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday in the historic building just a block away from the main festival grounds.
Festivalgoers on Friday night will have a chance to see the crowning of the Peanut Butter Festival queen on the main stage at 6 p.m. Music by DJ The Outlaw will provide the backdrop for the remainder of the evening as folks enjoy the 50-plus food and craft vendors on hand in the park and along Water Street.
On Saturday, the festival kicks off early with the 5K race starting at the park at 8 a.m. The festival officially opens at 9 a.m. on Saturday, the same time entrants can drop off their culinary creations for the Peanut Butter Cook Off.
Also at 9 a.m., a motorcycle cruise will depart from the New Bethlehem VFW Post for a fundraising ride for a local cancer patient.
An eating contest will be held on the stage at 11:30 a.m.
Broad Street will be lined with spectators on Saturday for the 3 p.m. Peanut Butter Festival Parade.
In the evening, the Route 8 Band will perform from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and 8 to 9:30 p.m. on stage, with fireworks lighting up the skies over the creek at dusk.
On Sunday, Sept. 19, the festival opens at 9:30 a.m. with a community church service. The Knight Cruisers Car Cruise gets underway at 11 a.m., extending along Water Street from Redbank Chevrolet to Gumtown Park.
Also at 11 a.m., the New Bethlehem Fire Department’s chicken barbecue will begin in the park.
A Tractor Show will be held on the lower end of Water Street from noon to 4 p.m.
On the main stage on Sunday will be a number of local performers, starting off at 1 p.m. with members of Dancer’s Studio. The NBC Barbershop Chorus will perform at 2 p.m., followed at 3 p.m. by the ventriloquist act of Jimmy Swogger & Friends.
Ducks can be purchased all weekend in the chamber of commerce’s merchandise tent for the Duck Race on Red Bank Creek at 4 p.m.
Gerow said the chamber tent will also feature a number of 25th anniversary items for sale, as well as other Peanut Butter Festival merchandise including new T-shirts, hats, tumbler glasses, magnets, stickers and more. And, of course, the chamber tent is the place to purchase jars and cases of the many varieties of peanut butter manufactured in New Bethlehem at the J.M. Smucker peanut butter factory.
Also new this year, the festival is hosting the Cute as a Peanut contest for young children, with the winner being announced at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday before the festival’s end.
The park will also offer an inflatable carnival for children on Saturday and Sunday, with unlimited use of the five attractions for $5 each day. The carnival will run from noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
“I’m excited that we have been able to add a couple of new items to the festival,” Gerow said. “We are pleased to partner with the Historical Society to include their quilt show into our event. We’re hoping that this will be the first of many PBF events that will expand uptown from Gumtown Park. And, we are introducing our Cute as a Peanut photo contest. This contest is open to either girls or boys ages five and under. We think it will be a fun way to get young people involved in the festival.
“There have been some rough spots getting here, but we think this year’s festival will be a lot of fun for the whole family,” Gerow said, thanking all the local businesses, sponsors and volunteers who help make the event possible each year.
“The nationally-recognized and award-winning New Bethlehem Peanut Butter Festival is our community’s signature event and small-town America at its best,” said New Bethlehem Mayor Gordon Barrows, who also sits on the chamber board. “The Redbank Valley Chamber of Commerce and myself as mayor of New Bethlehem invite your family and friends to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Hope to see you there!”
For more information about the festival, visit the chamber’s website at www.PBFestival.com.