‘Big town picnic’: Geyserville residents gather to mark spring season

The event, first held in the 1920s, brought together hundreds of festivalgoers to celebrate the spring season.|

Wearing flower crowns and each holding a strand of pastel-colored ribbon, a dozen third graders from Geyserville Elementary School skipped around a white maypole set up in the courtyard at Draxton Wines south of town.

Weaving over and under each other to the beat of the background music, the students intertwined the ribbons down the length of the pole where Gretchen Crebs sat on the ground clapping.

Festivalgoers gathered to cheer on the students as they celebrated the arrival of warmer weather, much as they did 100 years ago at some of the area’s first May Day celebrations.

Sunday marked the 44th Geyserville May Day Festival, which drew an estimated 500 people to the winery off Geyserville Road.

Sponsored by the Geyserville Chamber of Commerce, the town’s Kiwanis Club and the Odd Fellows civic group, the event featured live music, performances from local dance groups, games for children and a rib cook-off, among other festivities.

Crebs, the festival committee co-chair, said the event provides an opportunity for residents to come together and reconnect.

“It’s a big town picnic,” she said.

For Crebs and her sister Rachel Plat, fifth generation-Geyserville residents, hosting the festival continues a long family tradition – their grandparents attended the May Day picnics in the 1920s and their father, the late Harry Bosworth, helped revive the event in the 1970s after a 50-year pause.

The earliest recorded May Day celebration in Geyserville was held 150 years ago on May 8, 1873, in an area known as Ely’s Grove north of the unincorporated community, according to a history of the event compiled by Geyserville Museum curator Ann Howard.

But it appears it was a one-time event, Howard said.

In 1921, students from the local school and their families gathered for the first of what would become an annual May Day picnic to commemorate the spring season.

The event grew over the next decade, drawing hundreds of people from the area each year and expanding to include a parade on Main Street and dances held in town.

Children would participate in pageants and each year festival organizers crowned a May Day queen, who would ride into the event on horseback. The children would also perform a May Pole dance.

Musicians entertained the crowd with their instruments and attendees raffled off handmade goods and crafts.

Money raised at the event was used to buy equipment for Geyserville firefighters, including a fire truck later credited with saving the town during a devastating October 1935 fire, Howard said.

The celebrations ended in 1931 amid the Great Depression and remained on pause through World War II, according to Howard.

In 1976, Harry Bosworth, a lifelong Geyserville resident who owned the local hardware store and was known as the unofficial mayor of Geyserville, and Keith Lampson resurrected the event at the grove. Bosworth died last November.

Crebs said in those year, the event featured rowdy boxcar races, cake walks and pony rides. The fire engine companies held water wars, Plat recalled.

The event moved to the Geyser Peak Picnic Grounds in 1990 and last year to Draxton Wines after a pandemic pause, Crebs said.

Crebs, who became involved with the event in 2000 after moving back to Geyserville, said in recent years organizers have sought to revamp the festival with the addition of the rib cooking competition and more activities for kids.

Sunday’s festival kicked off with live music by local band Pazifico.

Organizers crowned the May Day ambassador shortly after 1 p.m. and this year’s event marked the first time the event featured a gender-neutral festival court.

Tyson Garces, 15, was chosen as the festival ambassador from among four Geyserville New Tech Academy high school students who were honored for their contributions to the school and community.

A native Geyserville resident, Garces oversees planning of the school’s events such as prom and fundraisers. He recalled coming to the festival as a child with his family and said it was an opportunity for his and other families to celebrate the town’s history together.

Garces’ sister was crowed festival queen a few years ago.

“I’m carrying on her legacy now,” Garces said, wearing a festival sash and ribbon around his neck.

After the crowning, the third graders danced around the May pole to the cheers of the crowd. The pole, the original used in the 1920s celebrations, was found in 2002 and restored and has been used every year since.

Carmen Villareal of Cloverdale said the performance was one of her favorite parts of the event.

Villareal, her husband Gilbert Villareal and family member Dolores Flores, who was visiting from San Jose, drank beer and chatted as they enjoyed Sunday’s warmer weather. The trio were eager to try ribs from some of the eight or so organizations participating in the cooking competition, Villareal said.

Crebs was happy to see the turnout and to be able to keep the May Day tradition going. Despite various pauses over the years and moving locations, the spirit of the festival carries on, she said.

“It’s always such a great day and we’re happy to keep it going,” Crebs said. “It’s such a different May Day from the one we remember as kids and the ones our kids remember and the ones the kids today will remember but it’s always fun.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or paulina.pineda@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @paulinapineda22.

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