Fillmore brings out the fun for May Festival

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
May 21st, 2011

The Fillmore May Festival was in full swing Friday night as the 99th edition of the annual Chamber of Commerce fundraiser brought a carnival midway, dozens of food and commercial vendors, two entertainment stages and a beer garden to downtown's Central Park.

As kids with painted faces and cotton candy or shaved ice in hand scrambled to check out rides such as the Gravitron, Rocko and others provided by Guadagno Amusements, students from Central Music rocked out on a community stage at the event.

The festival has gone by different names over the years but remains a local tradition.

"I'm 48 and I have memories of coming here as a kid, throwing a ping-pong ball into a glass jar and winning a goldfish," former Mayor and current Fillmore Councilman Steve Conaway said as he took in the scene. "It's just community. You'll see people, families getting together. It's a fun event, and there's nothing wrong with a little music and cotton candy, either."

"Of course," added Conaway, "you've got the parade. That's a staple."

The parade, set to step off on Central Avenue at 10 a.m. today, will be preceded by the Lions Club's Heritage Valley 5K Run/Walk at 8 a.m.

This year, longtime sponsors Bud Lite and the Ventura County Star are joined by newcomers Wells Fargo Bank, Wm. Morris Chevrolet and Pacific Coast Trade School. The event is also backed by host of local companies and organizations.

Event coordinator Shawn Diaz, who runs the festival with the help of a dozen other volunteers, said there are twice as many vendors as last year and he hopes the event will exceed the $60,000 in net proceeds it usually generates for the Fillmore Chamber of Commerce, for which the festival is its top fundraiser.

The May Festival, which costs $80,000 to $90,000 to put on, typically draws 20,000 to 30,000 visitors. Diaz expects to match or exceed that number this year.

"This started as a one-day event and over the years and decades, it's expanded," Diaz said. "My goal is just to continue to take it to the next level."

Emcee R.J. Stump said, "Every year, it seems like it gets bigger and better."

This year, a main entertainment stage has been set up near the beer garden outside City Hall. Diaz credited soundman Jaime "Rico" Rangel of radio station Q104.7 for that particular improvement.

He said a videographer would be recording this year's festivities and the footage will be used to make a promotional video to present to potential sponsors for the centennial event, which might be moved to Two Rivers Park, the city's newest.

As a line formed outside the gates, youngsters gathered in groups, checking out the offerings.

Jacob Prada, 15, said he comes for the rides, his favorite being the Rocko, a sort of Ferris wheel with spinning caged cars.

"I've been coming to this my whole life," he said as he stood near food booths offering Mexican fare, corn dogs, barbecue, fried Twinkies and other fair favorites.

For Teanna Ramirez, 16, the draw is simple.

"The friends — hanging out with people," she said, adding that she came with a posse of 15 and probably wouldn't get home until midnight.

Following the 5K run and the parade, the festival continues today from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Hours on Sunday are from noon to 9 p.m.

The cost of admission is $4 for adults and $3 for children. Carnival tickets run $1 apiece, 20 for $19, and 32 for $25. Each ride takes three to four tickets.

By: JAmes Zoltak