Festival attracts record crowd to area
Rain and small hail that moved Sunday through Leavenworth didn’t seem to dampen the overall spirit of the Kansas Sampler Festival’s debut in Leavenworth County.
Visitors to Ray Miller Park in Leavenworth took to the tents on the festival grounds during the shower, but the annual festival was back on once the weather passed through.
“I think it went well,” said Keyta Kelly, festival director. “I think the first couple of hours Saturday we were working out some kinks, but after that I think it went really smoothly.”
Before the first visitors arrived Saturday at the 2010 Kansas Sampler Festival, organizers were touting the event as the biggest and best yet.
Kelly said estimated attendance was 8,500, which ranks at the top for sampler festival attendance since the event’s inception in 1990. Kelly said she had hoped to have a few more people and that next year the group would need to get “gate procedures down a little tighter” for more accuracy on attendance counts.
“I’m sure we lost some people when the hail and rain moved in,” she said. “That’s something we can’t control.”
With the appeal of more than 300 vendors and exhibits from approximately 140 Kansas communities, the park was full of life as the event kicked off Saturday.
This year’s Kansas Sampler was the first countywide festival in which the cities of Leavenworth County participated. Leavenworth, Basehor, Tonganoxie and Lansing sponsored the festival and had individual booths set up for people to learn more about what each city has to offer. Aside from the city booths, visitors were able to enjoy live entertainment from an array of Kansas artists and musicians, grab a bite from the smorgasbord of food stands and travel from tent to tent eyeing state-made products.
“We’ve been having a great time,” Leavenworth resident Karen Rowland said Saturday at the festival. “The skit we saw when we walked in was really good, and all the booths are great. It’s all the usual, fun festival stuff.”
Karen and her husband, Larry, said one of the most pleasant parts of their festival experience was interacting with people visiting and working at the event.
“Everyone has such a nice attitude,” Larry said. “Leavenworth has some really wonderful people.”
Commending the edible aspects of the Kansas Sampler were Olathe residents Page and Jack Jennings. They found a picnic table to relax, listening to Don Spain and The True Country Band while nibbling on a pork chop on a stick from Pachta Pork of Belleville.
“This is so good,” Page said of her snack.
The Jennings also said they appreciated all the Sunflower State information showcased throughout the event.
“We’ve really learned a lot today,” Jack said. “We were surprised how much we learned.”
For more than 10 years, the Kansas Sampler Festival has been traveling statewide to give residents and tourists just those things: great good, friendly people and loads of Kansas knowledge.
Marci Penner, Kansas Sampler Foundation director, said feedback at this year’s festival was favorable.
"The large crowd drew rave reviews from exhibitors as being a very interested audience,” Penner said. “The intent of the festival is to increase year-round visitation and business for the exhibitors.”
Penner farm in Inman was the site of the festival’s debut. The Sampler attracted people to Inman for eight years, and in 1998, the festival was on the move. Pratt was the first place to have the event in 1998, followed by Ottawa, Independence, Newton, Garden City and Concordia. The festival stays with each venue for two years then rolls to another location.
On Sunday, Kelly made her way around the festival grounds to meet and greet. She said a boy told her the sheep shearing was his favorite event, while some adults told her the wine and beer tasting tent was a favorite.
“I think those were the two favorites depending on the age of the person,” Kelly said.
Leavenworth County will play host to the festival once more May 7- 8, 2011.
Looking ahead to next year, Kelly said a couple tents were on soggy ground and might need to move them next year, depending on how wet of a spring the area will have next year. And, she said she’ll look at configuring the food courts differently also.
As for the festival that’s now in the books, Kelly said it was an overall success.
“We were just really pleased with the turnout,” she said. “We were just thrilled with the volunteers. We had some wonderful volunteers… couldn’t have been possible without them.
“We had 200 volunteers from across the county who just pulled it off.”
— Shawn Linenberger contributed to this story.