Last weekend is when the 2012 Reston Festival was supposed to take place. Unfortunately, the Reston Festival was canceled for 2012, and there's a possibility that it may be gone for good. As a lifelong Restonian, I have many happy memories of Reston Festivals past, and I am saddened to think that a 40-plus-year-old trandition may be vanishing. To commemorate the Festival, today I'm writing about the Festival's past (and RCA's role in it), and the possibilities for its future.
As I've mentioned in my past posts, the Reston Festival was originally an RCA venture. Conceived as the "Reston Rededication Festival," it was launched in 1968 at Lake Anne Plaza. As part of the first Festival, organized arranged a children's parade through the neighborhoods to the plaza, a parade that included banners, drums, and trumpets. (That must have been something to witness! Especially if you were awakened by the parade.) The events at the first Festival included the screening of a film about Reston, dancing, music, folk singing, and displays of local art.
RCA's than-president Dick Hays envisioned the Festival as an event to strengthen and celebrate Reston's sense of community. "Our goal is to commemorate the original dedication by assisting in developing and nurturing a community spirit and pride," Hays said, "a rededication, if you will, 'to provide a sense of place, not the anonymity prevalent in so much residential development today.'" The creation of the Reston Festival was right in keeping with RCA's mission to build a feeling of community and ensure that Bob Simon's founding principles were upheld as Reston continued to grow.
As Reston grew, so too did the festival. Throughout the '70s and '80s, the festival was a highlight of springtime in Reston, and included musical acts, games and amusements, arts and crafts exhibits, and food and drink galore. In 1982, the festival included a crab feast. (Sadly, being three at the time, I was too young to partake.) The Festival was Reston's biggest annual event in those years, and it drew thousands of attendees to Lake Anne.
The original incarnation of the festival ended in 1995 for a variety of reasons, including declining attendance and a concern that the Festival was becoming too commercial. But in 1999, several Reston organizations (Reston Association, Reston Community Center, and RCA) came together to revive the festival. It was eventually relocated to the Town Center, and it had occurred every summer since, until this year.
Officially, the festival was called off this year because RA and RCC, who have become the prime sponsors of the event, decided to step back and re-evaluate whether the festival remains relevant to Reston. The concerns about the current incarnation of the festival are pretty similar to the ones that led to it being dropped in the '90s: declining popularity and a sense that the festival may have become too commercial.
Sadly, based on my experiences at the last couple of festivals, I believe those concerns have merit. My memories of recent Reston Festivals revolve around walking through avenues lined with tents hawking window treatments and massage therapists, many of them not Reston-based, with the occasional community booth sprinkled in here and there. I understand that commercial participation was key to funding the Festival, but it detracted from the sense that it was a genuine community celebration.
The timing of the festival was also less than ideal from a weather standpoint. Mid-July is not the best time in Reston for an outdoor festival held primarily on asphalt and concrete. (Having stood in the street shaking hands and soliciting votes at past festivals, I can attest to this first-hand.) Many of Reston's major outdoor events now occur in the spring or fall, and with good reason.
So what does the future hold for the Reston Festival? Is the event no longer relevant to today's Reston?
I believe that the festival is an event worth preserving. But perhaps not in its current form. We should put our heads together and come up with a new vision for the festival, restoring its role as a celebration of our community and those things that make us special.
The Reston event that's closest in spirit to the original Reston Rededication festival is probably Founder's Day. This event is a relative newcomer, having being instituted in 2004, but it's really grown over the last few years. It's a celebration of Bob Simon, but also of the community he created. Founder's Day includes musical entertainment, speeches by local leaders, Reston-centric events (a tour led by Bob himself some years, a treasure hunt this year), and the serving of Bob's birthday cake. It's held in the spring, just as the Reston Festival once was, and it's at Lake Anne, as the Festival used to be.
Meanwhile, the Multicultural Festival in the fall, which dates back to 2001, celebrates the diversity that is one of Reston's strongest virtues. Like Founder's Day, it's held at Lake Anne, and it's grown in size and popularity as time has gone on. The event features singing, dancing, music and food from a variety of different cultures. My daughter and I always have a ball there.
Founder's Day and the Multicultural Festival are two of my favorite Reston events. And perhaps between them, those two community celebrations are the best possible continuation of the Reston Festival's legacy.
All that said, I still love a good festival. I look at the Herndon Festival as one model for what the Reston Festival could be. They have a lot of the same features that the Reston Festival has had in recent years: music, carnival-style rides, vendor booths... but all of theirs are bigger and better. And if there's anything that gets my goat, it's the idea of Herndon being better than us in anything.
The current model of the Reston Festival may not be what we need, but I'd hate to lose the idea of a true Reston-focused celebration. We are a special community, and the idea of a festival to nurture our community spirit and pride is just as relevant now as it was in 1968, when RCA debuted the original Festival.
Whatever form the Reston Festival takes in the future, it should have these qualifications:
- It should be of, by, and for Restonians. Sorry, window-treatment guys.
- It should feature at least some events that are uniquely Reston, that you wouldn't see in any other community.
- It should be scheduled at a time when attendees won't have to worry about heatstroke if they stay for a couple hours.
- It should make us feel proud to be Restonians.
- Most importantly, it should be fun!
There are a lot of different ways we could meet those qualifications. Maybe the answer is to dedicate our resources to growing Founder's Day and the Multicultural Festival. Maybe the answer is to go all out and do something that would blow the Herndon Festival away. Maybe the answer is something entirely new, that reflects the community that Reston has become.
I hope that our community leaders will think together and work together and devise a way to carry the Reston Festival's legacy forward for generations to come. I'm certainly ready to be part of those discussions. And whatever we decide to do, we should be ready to implement it by Reston's 50th anniversary in 2014. That should give us enough time to come up with a plan. I'm definitely looking forward to attending the new, improved Reston Festival.
Now I'm going to turn it over to our commenters. What do you think the Reston Festival should look like?