Gravenstein Apple Fair back in a big way; Large crowds undaunted by heat

It was 85 in the shade at Ragle Regional Park.

That and the dust kicked up by thousands of fairgoers kept lines long at the Kona Ice vendor and the Beer & Wine and Craft Cider tents. But the stultifying heat at Saturday’s Gravenstein Apple Fair, back in full force after a two-year, pandemic-related absence, was keeping folks off the dance floor at the North Coast Organic Music Stage, where the lead singer for an ensemble called The Pitchforks belted out the question:

“Ruby, honey, are you mad at your man?”

Heedless of the heat, one 70-something couple danced up a storm. Asked afterward if that was a two-step, Lee Turner replied, “It was a mixture of things.”

Lee and his wife, Jackie, live in Eureka. They’d risen at 5 a.m. to come to this fair — which continues Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“We have friends who told us about the music and the food and entertainment and I have to say, it’s fantastic,” Lee said.

The Turners spoke for the majority of those in attendance at this preserve just west of downtown Sebastopol.

“It seems like we haven’t had that many major events, after COVID,” said Dan Wilson of Sebastopol, while keeping an eye on his 7-year-old twin sons, Arie and Sidney.

“People just seem happy to be out and feeling normal.”

Put on by Sonoma County Farm Trails, a nonprofit that advocates for farms in the county, this fair is now 49 years old. Named for the delicious fruit that led to Sebastopol being known, in the middle of the last century, as the Gravenstein Apple Capital of the World, this event celebrates family farms in general.

Apples, of course, took top billing. Cider sold briskly, as did apple fritters, despite the lengthy line.

“I ordered apple fritters, but it’s a two-hour wait,” one man informed his date, attempting to manage her expectations. “I set the timer on my phone.”

In addition to the choice beverages and victuals and tunes, this fair enjoys a strong reputation for the music it presents. A total of 24 musical acts perform Saturday and Sunday. The Sonoma County-based King Street Giants, and their New Orleans-infused tunes, were Saturday’s headliner. Atop Sunday’s marquee are The Brothers Comatose, a widely popular Bay Area bluegrass band that will take the stage at 4:30 p.m.

In addition to the live music, local food, primo beverages arts and crafts, the event offers what Tyffani Sedgwick, a marketing specialist working with the fair, described as a plethora of “edu-tainment” – like “cow-milking demonstrations and pedal tractor races and a whole agrarian games section.”

Near the fair’s entrance, one could not miss the “Life On The Farm” area featuring Richard and Saralee’s Farm Yard, where kids could inspect up close, through a fence, calves, dwarf goats and Shire horses from Sweetwater Shires. That particular breed, explained Adrian Machado, comes to us from England, where centuries ago they were used as war horses, and for jousting.

To drive that point home, a jousting pole and knight’s helmet were posed nearby.

Machado’s daughter, Francesca Cohen, uses Shires to practice a kind of horseback archery.

Little ones put off by the size of those horses were welcome to play with plastic, toy facsimiles set up at the table. Four-year-old Bowen Rose seemed intent on using the hind legs of his stallion to kick down the walls of the miniature stables.

Another crowd-pleaser: the nearby lineup of antique farm machines in an area set aside for Old Engines, organized by members of the Early Day Gas Engine (EDGE) and Tractor Association. The machines included a 4-horsepower “hit and miss” engine with water pump, and a 1919 horse-drawn 10 horsepower Fairbanks Morse & Co. tank-cooled Model Z.

The contraptions created such a wheezing and popping cacophony that one half-expected Dick Van Dyke to step out from behind one of the large oaks and start singing ditties from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

Leaning over the rope, one man asked a member of EDGE, Karl Righetti, how exactly a hit-and-miss engine worked. The man only seemed slightly restless as Righetti’s explanation stretched into its fifth minute.

The most popular spots tended to be the shadiest. Resting on hay bales that served as seating for the SoCo Farm Bureau stage, Tom and Vicky Saffold of Healdsburg expressed genuine surprise at the size of the large crowds. They’d been to a few of these fairs, said Tom, and missed the event when it went away for two years.

By 3 p.m., they’d done a lot of walking. Vicky noted that she’d seen a lot of women wearing platform shoes and heels, and was relieved she hadn’t opted for such impractical footwear.

They’d purchased adult beverages “to take the edge off,” said Vicky. But they weren’t quite ready to go home.

“I feel the edge coming back,” said Tom.

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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