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Vintage Fest takes over Plaza this weekend

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It’s the last weekend in September, which means it’s Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival time. California’s second longest-running festival marks its 116th year in Sonoma with a community celebration of the harvest season this weekend.

“We’re always celebrating the history,” said Maria Toimil, president of the all-volunteer Vintage Festival board, who added that they keep the festival fresh by adding or enhancing the festival’s beloved events.

One example was last year’s switch to a nighttime parade with a “Get Your Glow On” theme to light up the dark.

The parade will again take place on Saturday evening, but will be preceded by a reenactment of the famed Bear Flag Revolt at 7:15 p.m.

“We wanted to make the night more of an event,” Toimil said. “We do have more (parade) entries this year. We’re encouraging people to have more lights and really kick it up a notch.”

The parade, which begins at 8 p.m., will head down First Street East, cross the Plaza at Spain Street and then continue up First Street West, all of which will be closed to cars for the evening. Parking will not be available on Spain Street when the parade takes over the north side of the Plaza on Saturday.

The festival fun officially starts today, Friday, Sept. 27, with the opening night Gala. The Barracks will host a slew of wine and food purveyors, who offer tastes and sips throughout the night. The 1980s cover band Tainted Love will be making music to get the crowd dancing. Tickets are $85 in advance, or $100 at the door.

“We’ve gone electronic this year and we’re really encouraging people to buy their tickets online,” Toimil said.

The Plaza is the site of Saturday and Sunday’s traditional festival, which is free to attend. Saturday morning launches at 10 a.m. with the Blessing of the Grapes, a ceremony that seeks to ensure a bountiful harvest. From there, prepare to get wet when the Valley’s various fire departments go hose-to-hose in the annual water fight at 11 a.m. Following that, the daylong festivities include live music (see the lineup in James Marshall Berry’s music column), a beer garden, wine tasting tent and an art fair.

“One thing I’m super excited about this year is that we’ve combined the wine tent and art fair, so we’re creating a ‘sip and shop’ experience,” Toimil said.

As always, the festival invites nonprofits and community groups to host their own booths on the Plaza. From selling hamburgers and hot dogs to the salami toss and fishing games, each booth doubles as a fundraiser.

This year, the Sonoma Valley Soroptimists stepped up to create a kids corner, with activities for toddlers to teens from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day in the northeast quadrant of the Plaza. Volunteers are needed to help in the kids corner – those available can call Tami Cotter at 287-3908.

The popular Grape Stomp competitions will also take place both days, and stompers are encouraged to sign up online. Returning on Sunday at noon will be the Corporate Grape Stomp, during which businesses donate $250 each to participate and form two-member teams to see who can crush grapes the quickest using only their feet.

“They stomp off against each other, and the top four winners can donate the money to the charity of their choice,” Toimil said, explaining that the portion of funds a team receives depends on the order they place in the competition.

Sunday gets going bright and early with the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival runs, with both a 12K and 5K, and a “Tiny Tracks” course for kids, making it accessible for casual runners to more seasoned pros. Registration is required, and can be done in advance online or at 8 a.m. the morning of the event.

As always, proceeds from the weekend of events will be split among a variety of nonprofits selected by the Vintage Festival board. This year’s recipients include the Native Sons of the Golden West; Sonoma Valley High School’s grad night; Junior Dragons and its cross-country team; Citizens United for a Sonoma Pool; and the Depot Park Museum, the latter of which is hosting an exhibition on the Vintage Festival’s rich history.

“This year, 100 percent of our beneficiaries are sending volunteers to the festival to help us, which is not something that has happened in the past,” Toimil said, explaining that the festival is reliant on more than 100 volunteers to make the weekend happen. “This event would not be anything without our volunteers,” she said.

See a full schedule of events at valleyofthemoonvintagefestival.com.