The past weekend’s 36th Annual Manhattan Potato Festival might have outdone itself.
Titled “No Small Fries,” it was Spud-tastic. A-peeling. Bushels of fun. Last year’s post-COVID festival was estimated at 5,000 people and, at that time, possibly the largest festival ever.
The 2022 SpudFest outdid last year. Organizers “guestimated” Saturday’s festival at a crowd size of 7,000.
The Manhattan Volunteer Firemen that didn’t dance last year? They danced this year — and stopped in the Main Street intersection for multiple songs.
The Manhattan Senior Center again sold hundreds of loaded baked potatoes. Last year, the Chord Rustlers handled the spuds for seniors; this year, the YA did, with the festival itself donating the spuds and donating back to the seniors.
“The (Manhattan High School) football team served the potatoes, in their uniforms. The ladies were elated,” said volunteer director Lori Myers. “We helped the camp; the camp helped the seniors; the football team helped the seniors.”
Need any more evidence that Manhattan is a great community or what?
“And we maxed out at 85 vendors in total, with 10 food vendors,” added Myers.
This was the second year for the Jim Oriet Memorial 5K Color Run, and 50 runners showed up. He meant to just pace the runners, but Coach Chambers “took the team there to run, and we won,” said Myers. “And the whole Oriet family was there to volunteer.”
Oriet, 64, was a much beloved Manhattan teacher and coach who died last year just days before the Potato Festival.
The 11 a.m. parade maxed out on entries with 50, and “It lasted an hour,” said Myers.
The Manhattan Girls’ State Championship team (10-year-old Manhattan Softball Association club team) was promised that if they won, their coaches would ride the float with them — in tutus. They did and the coaches did.
And for parade goers who were baffled by the Manhattan Dental banner of Sharks Heads? Manhattan Dental is ... Jawsome.
The 2022 festival royalty were Manhattan dairy farmers Bob and Virginia Bos.
“We received several nominations for them, for their kindness and influence in the local ag community,” Myers said. “They are well-loved in the community and a most deserving couple, and they said they are gonna retire this year, so it is fitting. Their grandson drove them in the parade, in a black convertible.”
The festival still had a car show — with Built 406 filling the gap. On Facebook Mark Doherty said that “I love that there’s a car show affiliated with the potato festival again.”
And the Pasture Movie and Hoedown and Lawnmower races?
“They did very well. It was a fund raiser for the senior class and raised $5,000.”
For all the grown men who don’t get enough time on their lawnmowers? A group of men got permission to build a small race track in the pasture, and had their first festival race.
“I think they race every month,” Myers said.
Alas, the Trike Race was a Could Have That Didn’t. All year, the Belgrade News heard of adults that planned to race — in costume — and we were all ready to be spud-dazzled. Only Jim Oriet’s granddaughter, Sophie, showed up for the trike race.
“So she won all the heats and all the races,” Myers said. “And she won a Mrs. Potato Head.”
And double alas: The Bee didn’t show up this year. He made a Honey-of-a-Splash last year in the tricycle race, and had many, many fans waiting all year to see him again. But they got stung. The Bee was a no show. Oh bee: Where are you?
“I had a woman from Helena tell me that she’d heard about the festival for years, and finally came this weekend,” Myers said. “Said it was the best festival she’d been to. Couldn’t believe what Manhattan managed to put on.”
As for next year?
“By Saturday night we all were saying, ‘I’m never doing this again.’” Myers said. “But, by Monday morning I’m already thinking about next year’s SpudFest.”