Celebrate community: Pumpkinfest features football game, new theme

Celebrate community: Pumpkinfest features football game, new theme

NORTH SMITHFIELD – The Great Pumpkin Festival will be held this Saturday, Sept. 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the grounds of North Smithfield Middle School, 1850 Providence Pike. With new activities and vendors, raffles, and a “safety” theme involving local emergency personnel, the 2017 event promises to be the biggest yet.

The festival, now in its 11th year, is a chance for residents and organization in town, from businesses and nonprofits, to sports teams and church groups, to come together and enjoy food, entertainment and an assortment of fun activities, many of which are free.

Festival Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Featherston said that after spending a lot of money on entertainment for the event’s 10th anniversary last year, committee members learned something.

“People are coming more for the booths and the activities than the entertainment,” said Featherston, the chairwoman since 2015. “They’re coming for the event, for the community, for the friends and family and camaraderie that they have.”

This year, Featherston said the “Pumpkinfest” committee, as it’s commonly known, focused on activities instead, adding new features to popular mainstays like the pumpkin-launching trebuchet.

The fun will also include a dunk tank with well-known local figures including Athletic Director Matthew Tek, along with a golf challenge operated by staff from the North Smithfield Animal Shelter. The Class of 2020 will run “Wreck-It Ralph” – a game where friends compete to see who will be pushed off a pedestal. Guests will also have the chance to try out a NASCAR ride and a virtual reality game created by a local college student.

“You can fight zombies,” said Featherston.

“We were able to get six carnival games,” Featherston said. “That’s something we were really excited about.”

The festival also features plenty of crafts and activities for children such as face painting and visits by BoBo the Clown and a “bubble man,” who covers the main field in gigantic bubbles throughout the afternoon. This year, the children’s “Pumpkin Patch” will also have basketball and soccer games.

Local small businesses and nonprofits always sell a variety of foods, and new options this year include chili, tacos, Philly cheese steaks and dynamites.

A number of booths and demonstrations focused on increasing safety for home, family and self, will promote the festival theme. In the past, festivals have had a less serious emphasis, with booths themed in western style, or showing their 1960s flare.

“We wanted to do something a little bit different this year,” Featherston said.

Features this time will include demonstrations with a crash test dummy, touch-a-truck, and a fire safety house filled with foam, where staff will teach guests how to crawl, drop and roll. With the help from the North Smithfield Police Department, the committee was also able to get the Rhode Island Police Command Center to stop in for demonstrations. 

“If we have a national disaster, this is where they would run everything out of,” Featherston said.

Local Cub Scouts will have a first aid booth, Walgreens will bring a free flu clinic and Bucky the Dinosaur will remind children to buckle up.

Another booth will introduce residents to new systems for emergencies that officials are working to establish in North Smithfield known as the silver alert program and the medical alert program.

This year’s event will also feature a pumpkin carving and decorating contest with 1st, 2nd and 3rd place prizes in four categories: elementary, middle school, high school and adult. Participants are invited to bring their submissions to the Pumpkinfest committee tent between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and they will be judged on creativity and difficulty, with extra points for incorporating the “safety” theme. Submissions can be left as decoration or taken home.

A 50/50 raffle will ask guests to guess the weight of a giant pumpkin, and new raffles this year will come with prizes including baskets, movie tickets, and gift cards to local restaurants including “Play and Eat” certificates for four to Dave and Busters.

The musical lineup for this year’s event includes family-friendly acts such as Mr. Rowland Music Man and returning performers including the Jesse Liam Band, playing pop and classic covers of songs by everyone from The Beatles to Jason Mraz. “Louie Likes it Hot,” will play classic rock, rhythm & blues from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Charlie Marie, a country solo artist from Burrillville who has built a career in music in Nashville, will perform from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. 

For the second year, Pumpkinfest will include a car show with antique and exotic vehicles. According to Featherston, this year’s show is much larger than last year’s and had to be moved from the school’s upper field to the nearby parking lot.

“The cost of some of the vehicles is a few million dollars so we couldn’t have them riding across the field,” the chairwoman said.

And in keeping with an event that, for the past decade, has celebrated hometown pride, the festival will end with a high school football game.

The Northmen will take on Central Falls in the nearby high school field starting at 6 p.m. in the first “Pumpkinfest Bowl.” The winners of the day’s raffles and contests will be announced at the game.

Pumpkinfest was started in 2006 as a way to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, and has grown into a substantial source of funding for local nonprofits. With the help of an expanding list of sponsors, the festival also awards grants to local programs that benefit children, and provides a scholarship to a graduating senior going into a service field.

In 2015, awards totaled around $4,000, and in 2016 they grew to $5,700.

“Small businesses have stepped up to support the children here in town, which is wonderful,” Featherston said.

This year, a portion of the proceeds will also go to the victims of the recent hurricanes.

It all kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday morning, and if the list of fun features seems a little overwhelming, just look for an orange polo shirt for help. Sew Right Embroidery of Cumberland has donated Pumpkinfest T-shirts and armbands for volunteers, and polos for the committee members.

Pre-admission buttons for Pumpkinfest can be purchased in advance for $1 per person, at North Smithfield Town Hall, North Smithfield ‘Lil General, R & D Seafood, Wright’s Dairy, Goodwin Brothers Farm and North Smithfield Walgreens.  Admission purchased at the gate on Saturday will cost $2 per person.

While there are many festivals and events in the area to welcome in fall, Featherston points out that you can’t beat what you get for the price in little North Smithfield.

“We’re trying to think of additional things we can do to make it different every single year,” she said of the event, noting that above all, Pumpkinfest is a chance to gather with others. “We need to be able to walk around and say hello to the people who are our neighbors, and to come together as a community.”

The event will be held rain or shine. For more information, or the view the entertainment schedule, visit www.greatpumpkinfestival.org .