All good things must come to an end. And, somewhat sadly, the party is over.

The Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival as we knew it, has, in my opinion, officially died. R.I.P. P-Fest! Bye-bye, so long, farewell! But as some people believe, the spirit stays alive long after the body dies.

The cause of death has been under dispute. David Eblovi stated in the Review that “the unvaccinated” were responsible, a claim so ridiculously ludicrous (as well as divisive and mean-spirited) that I won’t even bother trying to refute it.

To some, it might look like Pumpkin Festival died of natural causes. After all, it was getting old, big and crowded, and it could be said that the festival was on its way to imploding. With the proper interventions, the festival may have overcome these problems and gone on to live a long and happy life, but unfortunately the city killed the festival a couple of years ago in the name of public safety.

Many may not understand the soul of The Fest, a phenomenon that grew out of the spirit of the people of the coast back then. The Coastside was a tight community of rowdy, feisty and sometimes bawdy individuals who looked out for their own. And “our own” meant our community, all members, regardless of race, gender or political affiliation. When Bev had the idea to fix up Main Street, everyone chipped in, and it was a party with live music and the coast turned out en masse to literally paint the town with the proceeds of the fest.

I was at every single P-Fest. The first festival, in the basement of my friend Marcia’s house, the Old Montara School, some don’t count as official, but I was there as a kid, painting rocks and selling them for a quarter. The next one, that counts as the first, was in the grounds of the I.D.E.S. Society only, and I went to see my dad, Ray Voisard, and his friend Dick Hazel, who had set up their paintings and were enjoying a casual afternoon showing the local artwork and drinking cocktails.

From there, the P-Fest grew, and, during those young, heady, expanding years, I had so much fun celebrating our town, back in the days when “living life” was more valued than safety. All of us locals would watch in amazement as the line of cars snaked their way over Highway 92. All these tourists were coming here? To our little town? It was an anomaly, a once-a-year inconvenience that we loved. After all, we were hospitable folk and welcomed these occasional visitors with open arms.

One year, early on, I sold my dad’s famous “Italian sandwiches” — salami and cheese, wrapped in red gingham cloth — for $1, and my friends and I had people lined up from the I.D.E.S. building out to Johnston Street. I had “LOCAL” printed up on the back of the official Festival T-shirt and skipped through the streets meeting up where only the locals knew to go: to the costumed Firemen’s Ball in the I.D.E.S. Hall, in the back of the Bakery, behind the beer booth or up in the graveyard. We would watch the bands play for a bit at the grounds in the morning, but then by the end the day we were at The Inn or San Benito, people sitting in the windowsills, overflowing to the street, live music still going, tipsy people in costume, dancing, kissing and cheering the tourists trying to leave town. We wouldn’t bother trying to go home until the town was once again quiet.

But then…

Well, I guess you have to start adding some rules, but once all that regulation and signage arrives, the spirit starts leaving. The yellow tape and temporary fences, the cops in the street directing people when to cross, and rules, and more safety, and eventually the Festival was becoming a large, unmanageable vessel. I was sad when some locals started leaving town that weekend to avoid the madness.

Two years ago is when one more intervention, one more stab at control by the city, was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back, and the Festival was killed. Because of a shooting that had happened in Gilroy a few months prior, the city thought it would be a good idea to have Sheriff’s deputies dress up in Army camouflage and stand on the roof of City Hall with automatic rifles during the beloved parade full of kids in Halloween costumes, which the City abbreviated to five minutes. The faux military personnel with body armor stood around the streets afterward with a giant SWAT tank thing. Not exactly welcoming.

And so, the Pumpkin Festival died.

They tried to hide the death last year, and, lucky for those now in charge, the pandemic restrictions gave the city good cover. Then this year, after having given the go-ahead to a one-day event, the city once again rubber-stamped a big red “No” on the Festival because of what they said were safety concerns. It’s a common thing the government is doing lately, exerting power under the guise of health.

It is common knowledge that there is little to no evidence that this virus is spread outdoors. Large outdoor gatherings are once again happening all over the Bay Area, the most restricted area in the country when it comes to rules based on the pandemic. It’s probably a good thing they put a kibosh on the planning, because the city, which knows how to make rules but not how to throw a party, wanted gates put up and proof of vaccine to enter, which would have been a buzzkill on par with the cops with AR 15s.

So, our large and unruly Pumpkin Festival was killed in the name of safety. I don’t believe our City Council members were sad to stop the party since they have shown very little support to local businesses during the past year and a half.

But the undying spirit of the true coast lives on!

Last year, like the citizens of Whoville when the Grinch tried to steal their Christmas, some of us carried on as usual. I had my traditional breakfast at my house, another home hosted the bakery tri-tip sandwiches, and another house hired a truck full of pumpkins to come for the kids. They fired up a juke box and a bubble machine. We hiked to the graveyard at night and told stories of Pumpkin Festivals past. In some ways, it was more fun than what the P-Fest had become.

I’m going to count last year as the first year of a new Pumpkin Festival that has grassroots and will grow from the ashes. This year, coming full circle, some locals are having their own fest in the grounds of the I.D.E.S. It will be just like the first year, a long time ago. Long live the Pumpkin Festival.

Chris Voisard lives in Half Moon Bay.

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(1) comment

uffish thought

Local groups depend on a large, successful Pumpkin Festival fundraiser.

There's no reason you can't have small "funraisers" too.

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