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Fest Preview: From apples to chili, Ithaca has it all

The+Diana+Leich+quartet+performs+at+Porchfest+on+Sept.+25%2C+2022+as+crowds+of+people+walk+by%2C+taking+in+the+sound+of+various+music+genres+from+different+porches.
Jasmine Scriven
The Diana Leich quartet performs at Porchfest on Sept. 25, 2022 as crowds of people walk by, taking in the sound of various music genres from different porches.

From music to apples to chili, Downtown Ithaca and The Commons will be alive with the sounds and smells of Ithaca’s annual festivals, including Porchfest, Apple Harvest Festival and Chili Cook-Off Festival. 

While these festivals began as a chance to showcase Ithaca’s agricultural and artistic talents, today they serve as a testament to the city’s growth and development as a community since the early 80s. 

Porchfest

On Sept. 24, Ithaca residents can expect their daily commute to work or school to be altered by the guitar strums, brassy trombone sounds and drum beats of Ithaca’s 2023 Porch Festival, a day of non-stop live music, food and art vendors rain or shine. 

Porchfest has been a source of live entertainment for the residents of the Northside and Fall Creek neighborhoods, as well as the greater Ithaca area, since 2007. As the name suggests, performers use their front porches, front yards and the streets as their makeshift stages for the day. Some of this year’s nearly 150 performers include ’60s cover band 18 Strings of Luv; 12-string edge singer-songwriter Alan Rose and the Restless Elements; and the poetic folk artist, Blackbird. 

In addition to the performers and art vendors setting up in the neighborhood, Thompson Park and Auburn Park will have food trucks representing local Ithaca businesses, like Fittnell Barbeque and The Silver Spoon. 

This year’s festival will mark the first ever Porchfest Makers Market. Alongside the traditional musical performances, there will be more than 20 artisan vendors selling different art pieces, jewelry and more in Auburn Park. 

Sophomore Samantha Funk attended Porchfest in 2022 as a first-year student and said it was an opportunity to familiarize herself with the greater Ithaca area. 

“I really liked it because it’s not in The Commons,” Funk said. “I had never really ventured past The Commons in my first couple weeks of being here, so it was cool to go through the neighborhoods and be exposed and gain more of a sense of the community happening there.” 

Jay Street, North Aurora Street, Utica Street and East Marshall Street are just a few of the road closures that will occur in an effort to control anticipated traffic and crowds, as well as to make room for any festival activities to occur in the streets. Parking on or near any of these streets is not recommended. The complete list of closures can be found on Porchfest’s website

Apple Harvest Festival

Just as the leaves begin to turn and the air starts to crisp, the annual Apple Harvest Festival will commence. The festival will kick off Sept. 29 and continue until Oct. 1. 

During last year’s Apple Fest, the city of Ithaca’s website said there were more than 50 artisans from the New York area, making the festival a place for people of all interests, whether that be for crafts, photographic pieces, artisanal beauty products or food. Past art vendors included Morning Mist Farms Soaps & Sundries, dna jewelry designs, Alchemist’s Whim and CM Goodenbury Photography. 

Apple cider donuts, apple pastries and alcoholic and non-alcoholic ciders are among the many apple-themed treats sold during the festival. Little Grey Bakery has been working with Apple Fest for about 30 years and makes a variety of pies and other baked goods that are sold during the festival. 

Littletree Orchards, another veteran Apple Fest vendor, is the source of a wide range of apple-themed products, like their unique flavors of apple cider vinegar. Baker’s Acres is a farm in the Lansing area that grows different types of apples, from Royal Gala to Crimson Crisp. At Apple Fest, the farm has sold their local apples, cider and apple butter. 

As a soapmaker for Morning Mist Farms, Lorraine Jackson attended Apple Fest for the first time in 2022 and is looking forward to returning in 2023. At last year’s festival, Jackson said her soaps were almost completely sold out. 

“The patrons were fabulous,” Jackson said. “Hopefully the weather will be perfect again this year. Apple Fest is an amazing festival — everyone should go at least once.” 

Chili Cook-Off  

Walking through The Commons during the first week of March, there will likely be tables and tents selling chili from over 40 local restaurants along with snacks and drinks offered from craft breweries, wineries and cideries of the New York region.

In 2023, the 25th annual Chilli Cook-Off Festival began at noon and ran until 4:30 p.m. The DIA website said that tickets were sold at a cash-only rate and were sold in multiples of 10 or 20, each of which could be traded in for one 23 ounce sample of chili or other food/drink item. 

Sophomore Connor Smith said he was pleasantly surprised by his experience at Chili Fest in 2023. While he was not a fan of chili before attending, Smith said he was surprised by how much people in Ithaca love their chili. Smith also said the weather contributed to his unexpected enjoyment of the fest. 

“My friends wanted to go, so I had to try a lot of chili and they were all pretty good,” Smith said. “It was cold, so it was good to have some warm chili.”

Chili Fest offers food for a variety of taste buds. Senior Annalese Winegard, who attended the festival for the first time this past year, said she had a difficult time picking which chili dishes to try because each one was unique. 

Winegard said that the experience was like being a Food Network judge and that she compared notes with friends about the presentation and spice level of each chili she tried. 

“Some were very spicy and the toppings that they put on were different and some just did cheese or lettuce, but some people got fancy with it and did tortilla strips or cornbread,” Winegard said. “It was cool to see everyone’s take.” 

When sophomore Aiden Robey attended Chili Fest, he said there were significant crowds but said the line to buy tickets was manageable. Once inside the festival, Robey said he enjoyed being able to socialize with the chili chefs. 

“Some of [the vendors] were small businesses and some of them were bigger businesses or restaurants around town and it was really cool because you actually got to talk to them about how they made their chili,” Robey said. 

Robey attended both Apple Fest and Chili Fest as a first-year student and said both fests had their own uniqueness while also having a similar effect on the Ithaca community. 

“The different festivals show how involved this community is with having gatherings and opportunities and bringing everyone together,” Robey said. “The community of Ithaca is really, really into it.”

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