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Idyllwild: One festive little town

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The Idyllwild Bluegrass Invitational of 1974 drew capacity crowds to Town Hall. Due to great success and popularity in only its third year, the event became twice a year and was moved to Idyllwild County Park. Town Crier File


Over the years, a variety of festivals have been held on the Hill, keeping the locals active and attracting thousands of visitors.

Idyllwild currently hosts several well-known festivals that highlight the culture of the community. The most popular and one of the longest-running is Jazz in the Pines, which started in 1994 and has brought some of the best jazz musicians in the business to the Hill. The jazz fest, as the locals call it, attracts thousands of jazz lovers and raises funds for Idyllwild Arts Academy scholarships. This year’s Jazz in the Pines runs Aug. 25 through 26. Tickets are available at idyllwildjazz.com.

Another lasting and popular annual event is the Art Walk and Wine Tasting, which started in 1998. The Art Alliance of Idyllwild sponsors and organizes the event, where patrons tour local galleries and sample Temecula Valley wines along the way. This year’s Art Walk and Wine Tasting is scheduled for Oct. 13.

Last year’s Jazz in the Pines Festival was a great success, despite rain storms. Photo by J.P. Crumrine


The Art Alliance also sponsors a Plein Air and 3-D Art Festival from June 8 through 10. New this year are two “Art and Treasures” weekends, which are Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends and aim to piggyback on the many yard sales locals and visitors alike swarm to in droves. The Art Alliance helps to fund art education in Idyllwild. More information is available at artallianceofidyllwild.memberlodge.org.

In its third year, the Lemon Lily Festival continues to gain momentum. This three-day event celebrates local conservation efforts, the restoration of the native lemon lily population, the history of the area and arts and crafts. This year’s festival will take place at the Idyllwild Nature Center July 20, 21 and 22 and has added a free bluegrass concert Saturday in the center of town. More information is available at lemonlilyfestival.com.

The Nature Center also hosts an annual Wildflower Show & Art Exhibit (started in 1978), which features activities for the kids, local artists, guided walks, live music and a native plant sale. The event is over Memorial Day Weekend, May 26, 27 and 28. Visit www.rivcoparks.com for information.

The Idyllwild Earth Fair started in 1990. It features educational and activity booths geared at encouraging environmentalism, as well as some fantastic live music. This year’s Earth Fair is slated for May 19 at Town Hall. More information can be found at earthfair.com.

Heading into its fourth year is the Idyllwild Independent Festival of Cinema. The 2012 festival was called the best yet, with better films and variety. Most films are shown at Idyllwild’s historic Rustic Theatre. This festival takes place in January. For specific dates, visit idyllwildfestivalofcinema.com.

The current film festival is not the first to make a mark on the Hill. An International Film Festival took place (with some gaps) in the fall from 1983 until 1999.

Idyllwild Arts hosts a Chamber Music Festival since 2001 at the campus. The festival features lectures and concerts and is free to the public. This year’s event starts on Aug. 6.

The academy also hosts a Native American Arts Festival, which started in 2007. It features lectures, exhibits, classes and performances. This weeklong event starts July 2. For more information, visit idyllwildarts.org.

Other memorable traditions that are still celebrated are centered around holidays, such as the Rotary-sponsored Fourth of July Parade, which started in the early 1950s as a festival called Idle Days. In 1965 the parade was incorporated, which ended with a picnic at Town Hall. Other years included a town festival and live music. The parade route is the same now (starting at Fern Valley Corners), but it ends now in the center of town. This year’s parade happens Wednesday, July 4.

Thanksgiving weekend features the Rotary-sponsored Harvest Festival at Town Hall. The Harvest Festival features arts and crafts for sale. Since it started in 1968, it hasn’t changed its location or mission. The Harvest Festival starts on the Friday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 23, this year, and runs through Saturday, Nov. 24. Another local tradition, the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, takes place on Saturday, Nov. 24 in the center of town.

The Bear Flag Festival once included real bears, which were barbecued and served up picnic style. These first-graders inspected a dead bear in this 1956 photo. Shown standing from left: Donna Chapman, unknown boy, Bruce Morlan, Claudia Dutton; front of Jeep: Sandra Adams, Anette James, Greg Hillis, Karen Wood, Chuck Muir; rear: unknown boy and Laurelette Lein. Town Crier file photo


One of Idyllwild’s most historic and long-running festivals was the Bear Flag Festival, which started in 1956 and featured a live bear doing tricks, and (until 1967) the feast of a barbecued bear. A Town Crier 1957 article gives this description: “A 650-lb. dead bear, which was exhibited widely around town in hope of thawing it in time for barbecuing, will be served up at a genuine pit barbecue Sunday from 12:30 to 3 p.m. for $2 per plate at the Idyllwild Inn.
“The live bear, Lulu-Belle, will disport her repertoire of tricks both days in the village and at Fern Valley. There will be games and other activities for kids. … Booths will serve pop and candy, and bear burgers for the kids and the Hemet Scout Troop 43 will present authentic Indian dances.”

The Chamber dropped sponsorship of the Bear Flag Festival in 1964, but the festival continued. In 1969 the festival came under scrutiny for costing more money than it brought in and not representing Idyllwild.

By 1978, interest had dwindled and the festival was not repeated.

An attempt was made to resurrect the Bear Flag Festival in 1979, but that fell through and Idyllwild lost the state’s approval to hold the event.

In 1973 a new kind of festival, reflecting the zeitgeist of the 1970s, came to town. The Bluegrass Invitational, sponsored by the local Music Merchant retailer, took place at Town Hall in May and hosted about 450 attendees. By its third year, there were 1,500 to 2,000 people in attendance, 42 individual performers and 16 groups.

The May festival was such a success, in fact, a second event was added in September 1975, but was moved to a larger venue: Idyllwild County Park. Now Idyllwild had two Bluegrass Invitational events a year and the local Jaycees club offered to sponsor the event. It continued to be a success through 1978.

In 1979, the May Invitational was dropped with the Jaycee’s decision to only sponsor one concert weekend. Momentum was lost for several years, until the Chamber of Commerce resurrected the idea with a Bluegrass Festival in July of 1981. That festival continued spontaneously through 1994.

Other festivals and fairs that took place in Idyllwild over the years include:

  • Folk Dance Festival at ISOMATA (now Idyllwild Arts) in (1952-1974)
  • Shakespearian Festival at ISOMATA (1953-1954)
  • Gay Alpine Festival (1962)
  • The Rotary Novelty Fair (1964)
  • Idyllwild Festival of Art (1966)
  • Edinburgh Theatre Festival featuring films, music, drama and opera (1971)
  • Renaissance weekend at ISOMATA (1971-1981)
  • Arts and Crafts Faire at Pinecraft Center (1973-1974)
  • Arts & Crafts Jamboree (1978-1979)
  • Rotary Spring Festival (1981-1983)
  • Ecology Fair (1984)
  • Harvest Moon Food Festival (1985-1993)
  • Ceramics Festival at ISOMATA (1986)
  • Oktoberfest at American Legion (1986-1987)
  • Fine Arts Festival (1988)
  • Mountain Acoustics Festival (1990-1991)
  • Idyllwild Art Guild Festival (1990)
  • Idyllwild Timberfest (1990-1999)
  • Garden Club Flower Faire (1991-1992)
  • Fishing Festival at Lake Fulmor (1992-1997)
  • USFS Forest Fair (1996)
  • Strawberry Valley Festival (1997-2002)
  • Cowboy Jubilee (1997-1998)
  • Potato Festival (1998)
  • Kids Music Festival (2001)
  • Edible Arts Tour (2003)
  • Town Festival following Fourth of July Parade (2005)
  • Idyllwild Western Festival (2007)
  • Tahquitz Pines Harvest Festival (2007)
  • Incredible Audible Art Tour (2009)

Did we miss a festival? Email idyllwildtowncrier@towncrier.com.

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