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Photo courtesy Todd Schall-Vess
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Photo by V. Lee Hawkins
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Photo by Jay Paul
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Photo courtesy Hardywood Brewery
You can't call it home if it doesn't have odd quirks, some personality and a healthy smattering of this thing we call tradition. Richmonders love their traditions and are always ready to invent new ones. Here are some of the regional habits and gatherings that give our place its own strange yet somehow comforting personality.
New Year's Eve in Carytown
A relatively new tradition that gives a nod to its Big Apple inspiration, the Carytown New Year's Eve celebration first raised the ball on the old year in 2007. That's when a relatively modest crowd of about 5,000 revelers gathered to watch a lighted globe ascend a pole atop the legendary Byrd Theatre. Since then, the event has grown in scope and attendance.
Boxed lunch from Sally Bell's
Happiness, according to Charles Schulz, is a warm blanket. But ask any Richmonder and they'll tell you happiness is a boxed lunch from Sally Bell's Kitchen. A metro-area staple for decades and seemingly cribbed straight from a Baptist church social, there's little mystery to the chicken salad on a roll, potato or macaroni salad, half of a deviled egg, all washed down by a signature upside-down cupcake (your choice of nine flavors). Pickle chips, Duke's mayonnaise and that checkerboard tissue paper all add to the experience.
Food Truck Court at Hardywood
For now, it's the flavor of the day, but it could have staying power: the food truck court at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery every Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. throughout the spring, summer and fall. Featuring all the best of the city's fast-developing gourmet food truck culture, coupled with the amazing brews being cranked out Hardywood, it's a family affair with flair.
Field Day of the Past
Do you fancy antique steam engines, tractor pulls and historical re-enactments? Then Field Day of the Past — actually three days of the past — is for you. This weekend event in Goochland County is an exploration of the time-honored traditions and folkways found in the rural Virginia of yesteryear. Re-enactments veer toward the more mundane facts of life — wheat and peanut threshing, meat smoking, sorghum molasses brewing, pre-Amana clothes washing and other "chores" that once defined rural life.
Miss Hanover Tomato
Another slice of the Richmond region's rural past preserved in crinoline and curls, the Little Miss and Tiny Miss Hanover Tomato pageant crowns two little princesses each year as the highlight of the Hanover Tomato Festival, a decades-old event dedicated to the county's self-proclaimed world's juiciest tomatoes. Held the second Sunday in July at Pole Green Park, the event routinely draws crowds between 30,000 and 40,000 to sample the earthly delights of a plant that belongs to the nightshade family.
Best Friends Day
The annual event celebrating the bacchanal and the bizarre rituals of Richmond's tattoo-flaunting, conspicuous facial hair-wearing younger set started as a tribute to urban hipster debauchery in August 2002, when a group of friends gathered at a remote water park called Hadad's Lake in eastern Henrico. Now the event has grown to an annual extravaganza luring thousands of people from around the country. Last year's Best Friends Day fizzled amid the busy family and work duties of the now-middle-aged founders, but hope springs eternal that this tribute to the joys of summer will return in 2013, tanned, rested and ready.
Bucket Brigade at Folk Fest
The Richmond Folk Festival, heading into its sixth year, has fast become both a local tradition and an international focal point for the exhibit of world music. But the two-day extravaganza falls flat without the hardworking Bucket Brigade. This all-volunteer, green vest-adorned, orange bucket-toting crew is the friendly face of philanthropy in action, collecting donations from attendees to the otherwise free event, while getting a load of world-class tunes as a fringe benefit.
Is Richmond a food town? Hit Broad Street in early June for the open-air buffet that is Broad Appétit and you could only reach an affirmative conclusion. Featuring fare from more than 60 locally owned restaurants and beverage purveyors, the Sunday event draws thousands to Broad Street near its intersection with Belvidere and also includes juried contests for "best" dishes as well as symposiums on food-related topics. Bring an empty stomach, a few bucks and prepare to die and go to Richmond foodie heaven.
July 4 Non-Motorized Parade in Ashland
What's a parade without floats or at least one giant Pokémon-shaped balloon? The answer is found each July 4 in Ashland, where the community turns back the clock to trot out its best basset-hound brigade, its synchronized folding-chair drill team, a handful of marching bands, a bunch of people in funny hats and more — all in the name of patriotism. Of course, it's typically interrupted by the passage of at least one Amtrak train. No matter, the band plays on.
There are few exhibitions of pure Richmond pride in the face of segregation and Jim Crow that hold the same communal reverence as "the Classic." More than a football game, the Armstrong-Walker Classic football game is a revival of the well-attended event held each Thanksgiving weekend from 1938 until 1978 that pitted the city's two rival black high schools in City Stadium. Now an exhibition game between semi-pro teams, it still draws big crowds — and bucks for charity.
Set to turn 100 years old this year (or 102 if they could get back the two-year hiatus during WWII), the Chesterfield County Fair is a slice of good-old Americana with a side of funnel cake and Tilt-a-Whirl-induced nausea. Even if you don't hail from the county, the fair's pageants, farm-equipment displays and pony rides may make you a little nostalgic for a bygone era and its rural charms.
Easter on Parade
Whatever happened to the good old-fashioned promenade? You know, where you and your family dress to the nines and take a slow stroll down the avenue. This tradition is not dead in Richmond. In fact, it emerges each spring like a tulip as 25,000 people converge on picturesque Monument Avenue, where they not only compete for the nattiest threads or the most ridiculous hat (for either human or dog), but they also take in music, variety acts and kids' games.