The weekend of Sept. 18 marks the 49th anniversary of the Festival of the Forks. The festival—started in 1966—has become a cherished tradition that celebrates the town’s geographical location.
The town festival gets its name from the Kalamazoo River split into its east and south branches. Locals called the spot “The Forks,” and some 49 years later the name still sticks.
When strolling down Main Street during the festival weekend, it’s typical to see decorated vendor carts. Candles, concessions and even local staples like Lopez Tacos all line down the road to entice visitors and residents in purchasing some of their goods. Live music plays in the background and throughout the town a spirit of revival is prevalent in the air.
This festival isn’t just about the food, the music or the decorations that hang everywhere. It’s a symbol of a community coming together— young and old, student and resident.
Amy Robertson, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, starts planning the next festival only weeks after the previous festival ends. She spearheads the entire operation and planning process, making sure that the festival is pulled together without a hitch.
Local establishments see some of the best business they have all year as old alumni return along with people from the surrounding areas to support downtown. Robertson said, “We bring in 3,000 [people] on Friday night and 7,000 on Saturday.” Referring to Jim Cascarelli’s, proprietor of the the popular Italian restaurant Cascarelli’s, Robertson claimed, “He says that Saturday is the third best day of business for him all year.”
The crowd is a mix of Albion college Alumni, residents and current students who all come together to celebrate the town. “It’s a great family reunion,” Robertson said, referring to the group that gathers year after year.
The festival doesn’t just provide opportunities for the town but for students as well. Activities that are included in the weekend are a home football game at Albion College and an Albion District library book sale with books cheap enough to fit any broke college student’s budget.
This year’s festival will see a mix of old and new. Local favorites such as Mona’s Tacos and the morning parade will celebrate the tradition of the festival while new vendors like Jessie Gray will serve the crowd “soul food” staples like brisket and greens.
“Our job is to bring different components making it interesting to all kinds of people,” Robertson said. “We try to remain fresh and different every year.”
To check for a list of full events, go to the Festival of the Forks website.
Photo by Alex Carey