WINCHESTER — The 93rd Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, set for April 24 to May 3, has been postponed over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, Brad Veach, the festival’s executive director, announced Tuesday.
Some festival events may be rescheduled and held later this year, he said.
“We’re still going to watch this closely,” Veach told The Star on Tuesday. “We want folks to be patient.”
He said the festival doesn’t want to, for example, reschedule some events for the end of May and then have to postpone or cancel them again.
“I don’t think anybody really knows how long it’s going to take for [the coronavirus] to run its course,” he said.
Veach said festival organizers are exploring ways to possibly reschedule certain events or activities for later in the year, but no new date has been set. It’s also possible some new events could be created should a new date be set.
The festival’s decision was prompted by state and federal officials discouraging large gatherings in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a respiratory disease.
The last time Apple Blossom was canceled or suspended was 75 years ago during World War II, when the festival was not held from 1942 to 1945. Founded in 1924 in Winchester, the festival is a community tradition featuring parades, parties, celebrities and other special events. The event’s party-like atmosphere draws large crowds.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that Virginia will follow the national mandate to avoid gatherings of 10 people or more as a result of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control is advising against gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks. This includes festivals, parades and concerts.
Although there are no reported cases of the coronavirus in the Winchester area, 67 cases have been confirmed in Virginia by the state Department of Health as of Tuesday.
In February, the festival announced NFL legend Terry Bradshaw would be the grand marshal of this year’s festival and former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann would be the sports marshal. Mia Dorsett, daughter of former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett, was set to be the festival’s queen.
“Forever bloom” was chosen as the theme of the 93rd festival.
Veach said festival organizers are reviewing contracts the festival has with celebrities and are looking to see if the festival can get its deposits back or if celebrities can reschedule for a later time.
“We had a really good lineup,” he said, which helped sell tickets to festival events.
Veach said festival officials will be discussing how to handle tickets and sponsorships already sold for the festival events.
In fiscal year 2018, the festival, which registered as a nonprofit in 2019, lost $95,423 in net income, according to the festival’s IRS Form 990. Apple Blossom generated $1,749,358 in FY18, with expenses costing $1,844,781 the same year.
Cold, rainy weather has hurt festival attendance over the past few years.
Veach was named the festival’s new executive director in November.
He said festival officials have been watching the coronavirus developments in recent weeks and considering the possible impact on Apple Blossom. Once he saw the CDC’s advisory on Sunday discouraging 50-plus people gatherings, he knew the festival would be in a tough situation, because some events have well over a thousand people.
He noted that festivals and large events across the U.S. and around the world have been canceled because of the coronavirus.
“It’s not that we’re unique,” Veach said.
Overall, Veach remains optimistic about Apple Blossom’s future.
“It gives us the time to really take a step back and look at the festival as a whole and determine what we can do to tweak it and make it that much better for the next 93 years,” he said.
He hopes that Winchester residents and Apple Blossom fans will still show their pride for the festival by decorating their homes in the festival’s colors of pink and green. There may be some social media campaigns to keep the Apple Blossom spirit going as well.
“We don’t want this to be all doom and gloom,” Veach said.