The Tracy Dry Bean Festival made major strides last weekend, especially with a renewed emphasis on beans. All signs point to the Tracy Chamber of Commerce-sponsored 21st annual fest finishing in the black.
That’s the positive side of the annual two-day festival that has been held in downtown Tracy since waaaaaay back in 1987.
Despite the progress, a number of questions about the future of the Tracy Dry Bean Festival still need to be addressed. Among them:
• What will it take to get more Tracy people involved in all phases of the festival — including commercial and nonprofit booths and more local entertainment?
• Are dry beans as a theme for the festival an interesting enough commodity to generate sustained interest?
• Is the income earned by the chamber and local nonprofits worth the effort?
I should interject here that Tracyites should applaud the efforts of Dan Maloney, the chamber’s executive director, and his staff in staging this year’s festival. They set out to make a festival without an admission charge work with chamber management. That’s in contrast to charging admission and outsourcing festival management the previous year. Dan, who stayed on as interim chamber manager specifically to produce the bean festival, certainly met those goals.
Achievements chalked up this year have set the stage for a community discussion of what the Tracy Dry Bean Festival should become in future years. There are more than a few people who have said that after 21 years, the festival has run its course and that it’s time to pack it in. Others have voiced more optimism about the future while saying that changes in direction and emphasis are needed to assure the festival’s continued existence.
I know Mayor Brent Ives believes there is definitely a future for the bean festival, but he told me during my bean-fest stroll that more community involvement needs to be generated. I, too, noted a lack of familiar faces while walking the festival grounds that Saturday.
Commercial booths from out-of-town vendors always will be a part of the mix, but ways to encourage local people — both nonprofits and commercial — to take part in the festival needs to be explored.
Several local entertainers took part this past weekend, but expanding that element of the fest could be another way to increase community involvement.
On the other end of the entertainment spectrum, having at least one big-name attraction (Remember when “The Platters” and “The Diamonds” performed here?) has been mentioned often in conversations. Without an admission charge, financing “name” entertainment is difficult but not impossible, probably requiring substantial sponsor underwriting.
Is the bean theme strong enough to project a unique basis for the festival? That is a question a number of folks have raised in recent weeks. Certainly, dry beans aren’t as prominent as garlic (Gilroy) or even asparagus (Stockton), but they have been a major crop in the Tracy area for most of the past century. This year’s festival most certainly added a number of bean elements, which had been missing in recent years. Continuing this trend and building involvement of Tracy people in the bean industry would certainly help. Veteran bean industry stalwarts Larry Teixeira and Ken Yasui were present and accounted for this year, and that’s a good sign.
Some have suggested having a “harvest festival.” Tracy had several of these in the 1950s. I suppose the festival could rotate the featured crop of the year, and that would include beans, tomatoes, alfalfa, almonds, walnuts and wine grapes, to name the obvious ones.
A tomato festival was another idea. Coincidentally, it was exactly half a century ago that Tracy staged its 1957 Tomato Festival. Ken Lowes of the Tracy Lions Club produced the festival in a giant tent at the southern end of the Tracy Ballpark. Unfortunately, cool weather kept the crowd small. Want to know more about the ’57 Tomato Festival? Just ask Jennie Gonzales Ryan. She reigned as queen — and even rode atop an elephant to publicize the event.
Tomatoes are a major Tracy-area crop — this year’s crop is an especially large one — so that’s a possibility. A tomato festival, which would be more appropriate if Heinz were still processing tomatoes here, is still a definite “maybe” nevertheless.
Of course, for the whole festival scene to be successful, it must produce revenue for the Tracy Chamber of Commerce. The chamber staff and volunteers put in a great deal of time and effort on this year’s festival. If, over the years, this kind of commitment pays off with a steady return for the chamber would be one very important dividend. By keeping the project management in-house, the potential for chamber revenue is greatly enhanced.
Obviously, I have posed a good many questions with only a few possible answers. I can only hope that a community discussion about the future of the Tracy Dry Bean Festival is just beginning.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.