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Celebration for Families

Northern Virginia prepares for award-winning family celebration.

Next week, residents will begin to notice a trickle of carnival rides, stage equipment and food vendor stands beginning to pop up around downtown.

They will be the first indications the Herndon Festival, the town's 26th annual celebration featuring everything from cotton candy to marathons, carnival rides to craft shows and live music to a "Doggie Expo," is returning to usher in the summer.

"It's more than just a carnival, although it does have that atmosphere," said Cindy Roeder, the festival coordinator of Herndon's Parks and Recreation Department. "It's a place for the people in the community to come and be with each other, for people who may not have seen each other in a while get a night to come together and watch a concert or be with their families."

"It's one of the largest free outdoor events in Northern Virginia," she added. "There's opportunities for people to do family activities, but also in things not to do with the kids ... like going to the concerts."

The Herndon Festival, voted last year as the "best festival or celebration for families" of the Reader's Choice Awards in local Families Magazine, is set to open June 1 and run until June 4.

ESTABLISHED IN 1981 as a small band of local musicians and area arts and craft-makers, the Herndon Festival has since grown to involve more than 25 food vendors, nationally-recognized musical acts, a craft show featuring the work of 100 artisans, approximately 80,000 patrons and a full year of planning, Roeder said.

"It all goes into getting it right, getting the details, making sure that we get the best possible quality crafters for the craft show, bands for the entertainment," Roeder said. "It takes a real specific mix of people to make it work."

"We get a very significant amount of support from people in and outside the community to pull this off."

The Herndon Festival utilizes the assistance of not just the town and its employees, but also of local volunteer groups such as the Herndon Optimist Club and the Herndon Woman's Club, and this year's title sponsor, jetliner manufacturer AirBus, whose North American headquarters is located in Herndon.

Perennially highlighting the Festival will be the "all you can ride" wristbands available for $13 in the afternoons of June 1 and June 3 and the professional fireworks displays on those evenings.

AS IN YEARS PAST, the three stages of free live music entertainment will present audiences with everything from a Motown cover band to "Rising Stars Showcase" groups from the East Coast tour circuit.

"We've been trying the last couple of years to get college or East Coast bands that are just kind of on the brink of making it big," Roeder said. "That way we can get them here for the people to see them before" they become household names.

One of the bands that will be performing as part of the Festival's "Rising Stars Showcase" is Knoxville, Tenn.-based pop-rock group, Jag Star, playing on June 3 from 3 to 4 p.m. on the Municipal Center Stage.

Jag Star, which has been touring throughout the United States over the last several years even performed for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the course of a month in 2003, according to Jag Star lead singer and keyboardist, Sarah Lewis.

She said that visitors to the festival will not only be present for the band's Virginia premiere, but will also get a sneak-peek at new material that will be used in an upcoming album.

"We like to mix it up ... we'll rock it out for a few songs but then we can slow it down," Lewis said. "We really just like to have fun and get a chance to meet new people and be in new places. Especially since we've never played in Virginia before."

Closing out the Festival on Sunday night will be the retro swing band remembered mostly for their appearance in the 1996 Vince Vaughn film, "Swingers," Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

"We're looking forward to [Big Bad Voodoo Daddy]," said Roeder. "We think there will be a lot of dancing going on on the green when they come on."

There will also be live entertainment for children on the Depot Stage, including a "Harry Potter Magic" show on June 3 and the "Yo-yo Guy" on June 4.

WHAT WILL NOT BE in short supply at the Herndon Festival will be a diverse selection of food, with vendors cooking up everything from hot dogs and pizza to crab cakes and buffalo wings.

"We try to have a pretty wide variety of food options available," Roeder said. "We try not to repeat any type of food very much so the vendors aren't competing with each other and they have a lot of variety there."

"We're really looking forward to working among the community of Herndon and getting a chance for the community to meet us," said Leslie Hutchinson, who along with her husband, owns and operates Robek's Fruit Smoothies & Healthy Eats, which opened last November in Herndon.

"We're a new business still in Herndon and we thought that we could use the Festival as a way of getting out what we do," Hutchinson added. "It's a great place to come out and have fun.

Hutchinson said that Robek's will be blending fresh smoothies such as their "Strawnana Berry," and offering "power cookies" high in protein and fiber throughout the weekend festivities.

"We're hoping it's a nice hot day and that people will want to come by and get a fresh smoothie," said Hutchinson.

Other vendors include long-time Festival participant, John the Greek serving fresh gyro sandwiches and American grill food from Jimmy's Old Town Tavern. Traditional carnival favorites like funnel cakes, freshly popped kettle corn and cotton candy will also be available.

PATRONS TO the Festival will also be given the opportunity to browse the collections of 100-plus personally-selected local artisans during the Arts and Crafts Show on the afternoon of June 2 and during the day on June 3 and June 4.

For the dog enthusiasts, a "K-9 2k" and "Doggie Expo" will take place on Saturday morning while a 5k and 10k race will begin at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday for those who prefer to run at a bit faster pace.

The Herndon-Dulles Chamber of Commerce will be giving local businesses an outlet to promote their services and products to the tens of thousands expected to attend the event as part of the Business Expo, which will take place on June 3 and June 4 during the day.

"People really enjoy this event every year," Roeder said. "Seeing those people out and seeing how we [the Festival staff and volunteers] come together and make this happen, it makes it all worth it."

"I think most of us all find it really rewarding, the outcome," she added. "Seeing all the colors, the festivity and all the people in the community coming out and having a good time together is just great."