Peachfest ripe for another successful year

After more than 60 years, Penticton’s Peach Festival continues to grow and organizers are looking at another great year, with new entertainment and events from noon Wednesday through Sunday.

John Kowal and his daughter Caitlyn take a rip on the Sizzler at the Shooting Star Amusements midway at last year’s Peachfest. John said his neck was feeling a little sore after his daughter took him on the ride six times.

John Kowal and his daughter Caitlyn take a rip on the Sizzler at the Shooting Star Amusements midway at last year’s Peachfest. John said his neck was feeling a little sore after his daughter took him on the ride six times.

After more than 60 years, Penticton’s Peach Festival continues to grow and organizers are looking at another great year, with new entertainment and events from noon Wednesday through Sunday.

One of the biggest additions this year is the inclusion of the Sheila Bishop Memorial Wooden Bat Tournament, with games on Saturday and Sunday at Lions Park. Last year, the slo-pitch tournament raised $3,000 for charity, bringing their seven-year total to more than $20,000.

“Paul Borba came in and did a presentation to the board and we got all excited about it,” said Rick Riddall, president of the Peach Festival Society. “It’s the first year it will be under our umbrella, so we’re looking forward to helping them promote it.”

It’s all part of the nature of the five-day-long Peach Festival, which Riddall said is anything but static.

“It’s grown substantially since I’ve been involved,” he said, adding that they are always pushing to expand the scope of the festival, with events like the slo-pitch tournament. “It’s just something more that can be part of the festival. Sports brings in younger people too.”

Another change is the Square Dance Festival, another longtime Peachfest event, which is moving indoors this year. All of the dancing takes place at the South Main Drop-In Centre, instead of mornings in Okanagan Lake Park.

And despite concerns over its future, the sandcastle competition — one of the most popular Peachfest events — will be on again this year. Skaha Rotary Club, which has run the event for years, is stepping away, making this their last year as its sponsor.

But Riddall said the society is working to make sure the sandcastle building continues, and are starting the search for a new group to take over the event.

“It’s got to continue, it’s got to be part of Peachfest. The Skaha Rotary Club has done a fantastic job maintaining it and the fire department has always been involved,” said Riddall. “We’re carrying it on this year but we are going to have to do some research and we’re going to have to talk to people and get them involved.”

The events and entertainment gets underway at noon today in Okanagan Lake Park running until 11:30 p.m., and then starting up again the next day at noon. Thursday culminates in a 10:15 p.m. performance by one of Canada’s longest-lived bands, Trooper, who have been rocking crowds for nearly four decades. And while Riddall expects the immensely popular band to fill the park on Thursday evening, he said they aren’t the only beloved party band coming to the festival.

Peachfest also has Killarney coming to close the festival on Sunday night. Billing themselves as “the hardest working band in Gastown, these Irish lads hold a record as the longest running pub band in the world, being resident at the Blarney Stone in Vancouver since 1985.

“They are a true Irish group … we were lucky to get them. They are a fun bunch of people and they will rock the park,” said Riddall. “We can’t forget the local acts as well — we’ve got about 30 local acts playing through the festival.”

The festival really gets going on Friday, however, with the Aboriginal Cultural Village opening up in nearby Gyro Park. They’ve also got a full slate of performers from noon to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

And then, of course, there are the two parades: the Grande Parade on Saturday and the Kiddies Parade on Sunday.

According to Riddall, registrations have been up to the same level as last year, so he is expecting the Grande Parade to last about 90 minutes as it wends its way down Main Street from Penticton Secondary to the SS Sicamous at the end of Lakeshore Drive.

According to Riddall, the Grande Parade is the largest municipal parade in B.C., outside of Vancouver. And the Kiddies Parade, he added, also promises to be a big one.

“It’s growing every year, it gets bigger and bigger,” he said. “It’s such a fun thing to see these little tykes.”

The judging will be done behind City Centre, then they will proceed down Main Street, from Wade all the way to the park, arriving just in time for the highlight of kiddies day, a performance from Charlotte Diamond, one of Canada’s best-known children’s entertainers.

Visit http://www.peachfest.com/ for the full schedule of events and times for Peach Festival 2011.