New look, name for Olden Days

Published 7:17 pm Tuesday, May 15, 2018

By Elizabeth Pattman

Staff writer

Following the completion of this year’s event, Smithfield’s Olden Days Festival will get a new name — FamFest, and it will be geared toward families, according to tourism officials. 

The traditional Olden Days Festival will remain the same this year and will be held June 29 and 30. 

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The event features a car show beginning at 5 p.m. and the Rhondels at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. Music will continue Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday night will also feature the Olden Days Ghost Walk guided by the 1750 Courthouse staff, while Saturday’s events will include the kids, bike and pet parade, the annual raft race, an antique tractor display, kids activities on Joyner Field and various vendors on Main Street. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“So it’s going to be the same as it’s always been this year; we’re not changing anything. Maybe a few different talents performing, but same traditions we’ve always had,” Connie Chapman, the special events coordinator for the tourism office, said.

According to Chapman, future FamFest events will maintain a similar atmosphere as the Olden Days Festival, but will be more oriented towards all ages.

“We want to shake things up and bring in a lot of people,” Chapman said. “We have got festivals through Smithfield VA Events, which are extremely popular, but that’s for an adult crowd. We have car shows and things, but that’s more of an adult crowd. We don’t really have a ton of stuff for kids.”

Tourism Director Judy Winslow also said the office felt the Olden Days Festival “had run its course,” and they wanted to move Smithfield events in a new direction geared towards inclusive, family fun.

“There are a lot of other interests that we have not covered in the past that we want to concentrate on going forward,” she said.

 “We just want something that everybody feels like they can go to,” Chapman said. “There will be fun and food and games and things people can do as a family and individuals and couples can still come too.”

Many of the classic events of the Olden Days festival, like the raft race, will likely continue into the FamFest event lineup, though plans are far from finalized. Over the years, the raft race has become more family oriented, so it will suit the new goals of FamFest, Winslow said.

“The (Smithfield) Station has been very instrumental in this, in trying to get more kids involved,” she said. 

Chapman echoed that, adding, “A lot of youth have been involved over the years. It used to be just more adults, but it has definitely morphed into a family fun event.”

In addition to these event staples, tourism plans to introduce more traditional family activities to future events. Activities like wooden spoon egg races, potato sack races and other classic games are being considered for FamFest, according to Chapman.

“We just want to create those authentic, genuine experiences and we really think that’s what this new festival is going to do for us,” Winslow said.

Two years ago, Town Council member Denise Tynes complained about the name of the festival. According to Tynes, an out-of-town friend visited the festival and took offense to the name, saying it harkened back to a time when slavery was a reality. Tourism officials said that was the first time complaints about the name being offensive to the African-American community had been made.  

Those complaints, however, were not cited by tourism staff as a reason for changing the festival.

According to research completed by Chapman and other office staff members, family festivals like these are popular in other communities and are becoming “the trend.”

FamFest is likely to be held on the same weekend as the Olden Days Festival is because the community is already accustomed to attending at that time, Winslow said.

To get FamFest launched, tourism staff will be holding several meetings with community partners over the coming months, according to Winslow. These meetings will help to get an idea of what the community would like to see in future FamFest events, to make sure the locals are being served as well as the visitors, she said.

Winslow said once this year’s Olden Days Festival wraps up, the community will be made aware of and able to contribute to the planning of FamFest.