In addition to being the time of pre-election insanity, fall is also the time of pumpkins, scarecrows and wine. Virginia, celebrating its 20th annual Wine Month in October, is home to a wide variety of fall festivals showcasing not only wine but also hot air balloons and our first president. In Maryland, its less about wine and more about seafood or, more specifically, crabs.
Well highlight five festivals in Virginia and Maryland that are an easy drive of about two hours or less away.
Saturday and Sunday: Myersville Trolley Festival; Myersville, Md.
The Myersville Trolley Festival celebrates the day in October 1898 when the extension of the trolley line from Middletown, Md., to Myersville was
completed, a landmark day that brought commerce to the sleepy village, now home to about 1,400 people. Last years festival attracted about 2,000 visitors, according to Nick Carras, co-chairman of this years event.
The highlight of this years festival is a bluegrass solo competition on Sunday afternoon. Contestants can bring one accompanist and compete for a $600 prize for first place, $400 for second place and $200 for third place. Twelve musicians competed last year, Carras said, and organizers are hoping to bring in more competitors this year. He said last years winner was Dave Whittaker from Columbia, Md., who played the dobro, a resonator guitar played with a slide bar. The day before, music aficionados can also take in Cold Hard Cash, a Johnny Cash tribute band from Silver Spring, Md.
Among the other attractions are a variety of arts and crafts as well as food vendors, including J.B. Seafood, a local caterer known for its incredible crab cakes and barbeque, Carras said. Goods, including quilts, art and memorabilia, will be auctioned off on Saturday. Throughout the weekend, kids can stay entertained with face painting and balloon sculpting.
Myersville is only about an hour and 15 minutes northwest of D.C., about 15 minutes past Frederick, Md., at the foot of the Appalachian trail. Admission to the trolley festival is free.
Saturday and Sunday: Tilghman Day, Tilghman Island, Md.
Attendees can participate in all things Chesapeake Bay at this annual festival, which serves as the major fundraiser for the Tilghman Island Volunteer Fire Department. Contests are the highlight of Tilghman Day, but true amateurs need not apply.
Two of the competitions are for boatmen: The first is a race, and the second is a boat-docking competition. In the boat-docking competition, a team swings the boat away from the dock, then maneuvers it back in and ties the rope on the piling. Locals won the competition in 12 seconds last year, according to Michael Roe, a board member for the volunteer fire department. Another competition, the jigger throw, involves throwing a 9-pound anchor the farthest in the water.
The final two competitions take place on land. The crab-picking and oyster-shucking showdowns test how much meat a competitor can get loose in three minutes and 30 seconds. A local woman won for crab picking with 126 grams last year. Since oyster shucking is still done professionally, that competition is divided into professionals and amateurs; in 2007, the professional won with 29 oysters, Roe said.
Rockabilly band Bird Dog and the Road Kings, whose most recently released album is called Eastern Shore Redneck, will perform, and vendors will sell a wide variety of wares. The islands new Phillips Wharf Environmental Center will be open for visitors.
Tilghman Island is about two hours from Capitol Hill, across the Bay Bridge on the opposite side of the Chesapeake Bay. Only one road, Route 33, goes to and from the island, Roe said. Visitors can choose from several guest houses with bay views on the island or stay in St. Michael, 14 miles from Tilghman Island on Route 33, or in Easton, which is 22 miles away at the intersection of Route 33 and Route 331. Admission is $5 for individuals, $10 for families and free for children younger than 12.
Saturday and Sunday: Second Annual Grape Stomp, Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, Dickerson, Md.
Co-owner Kathy ODonoghue hopes that this years grape stomp at Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard will reprise last years celebration, which she called a real hoot.
Organizers built a stage and filled half-barrels with grapes. Throughout the day, one group at a time would stomp grapes, and then the person who has squeezed out the most juice wins either a glass of wine or, if the winner is younger than 21, a candy bar.
Grapes leftover from last years stomp were used in a wine called Stomp, which will be among the seven new wines released at the event. Sugarloaf Mountains vintage wines will also be available. With its pinot grigio 2007, Sugarloaf Mountain won best of class in the Governors Cup Competition at the 2008 Maryland Wine Festival. It also won gold medals for its cabernet sauvignon 2006, chardonnay reserve 2006 and merlot 2006.
For the $10 admission cost (or free for those younger than 21), visitors get tastings of select wines, a commemorative wine glass and tours of the winery and vineyard. Bluegrass musicians from Frederick will perform Alexander Mitchell on Saturday and Yard Slippers on Sunday. Nates BBQ will sell food out of a truck driven onto the property.
The only vineyard and winery in Montgomery County, Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard is about an hours drive from Capitol Hill.
Saturday and Sunday: Fall Harvest Family Days, Mount Vernon, Va.
For the weary staffer who just needs a few hours outside the Beltway, Mount Vernon is less than an hours drive down George Washington Parkway. Though history beckons visitors to George Washingtons estate year-round, this weekend General Washington himself will be on hand to welcome visitors to the Fall Harvest Family Days. Another actor will play James Anderson, his farm manager, and will give tours of the site on horseback.
Visitors can take advantage of the opportunity to dance with the same steps the first president and his wife would have used, and at outdoor cooking demonstrations, they can learn to make cornmeal pancakes and roast apples. Horse-drawn wagon rides and a straw bale maze are also available.
For this weekend only, a stop at the distillery and gristmill site, three miles west of the estate, is also included in the price of admission, which is $13 for adults, $12 for seniors, $6 for children ages 5-11 and free for children younger than 5.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday: Hot Air Balloon and Wine Festival, Historic Long Branch, Millwood, Va.
This three-day festival in the Shenandoah Valley attracted 75,000 visitors last year and promises to be a huge draw again this year, according to Jennifer Seo, the director of events at Historic Long Branch, the estate that hosts the festival. Hot air balloons rise at 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and those who want to ride can schedule a time in advance. Twenty-one Virginia wineries will be on hand selling bottles and tastings at the festival. Adults will enjoy the crafts fair, classic car show, monster truck rides and live entertainment from Virginia bluegrass bands Larry Keel and the Natural Bridge Band and Seldom Scene. Blue Ridge Hospice is sponsoring a 5K run from nearby Blandy Farm to Historic Long Branch early Saturday morning.
A Kiddies Korner features live music, a moon bounce, a rock-climbing wall, a jungle tree climb and an annex with puzzles, games and face painting. The weekend is meant to be family-friendly and cost-effective, so kids younger than 12 are free. For anyone else, prices vary from a $5 fee on Friday, with no wine, to $25 for a weekend pass, with wine. There are discounts for those who order tickets ahead of time at historiclongbranch.com.
Historic Long Branch is about an hour-and-a-half drive southwest of the District. Its famous not only for its rolling hills and beautiful gardens, but also for its roster of famous previous owners, including Lord Culpeper, Lord Fairfax and Robert King Carter. The 400-acre estate is home to 85 retired horses. Tours are available from April through the end of October.