CHESTERTOWN — Chestertown may be an old dame, but the right party can still get her skirts swirling. Such was the case during the 40th annual Tea Party Festival, which drew crowds of visitors and locals.
The festivities ran from Friday, May 27 through Sunday, May 29 and included a street party, a parade, various vendors, beer and wine tastings and the centerpiece of Saturday, the re-enactment of the local legend where Colonists threw tea into the Chester River to protest taxation by the British monarchy.
Sunny weather held through the weekend. “I am so grateful it didn’t rain. It has rained so much lately,” said Sabine Harvey, president of the festival’s executive committee, in a phone interview May 30.
There were no major incidents requiring police activity, according to Chief Adrian Baker. He said that there seemed to be “a little lighter crowd than usual” this year. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he said in a phone interview May 30. “It minimizes some problems like people passing out from the heat.”
The street party on Friday night was the festival’s kick-off event, happening at a new location at the foot of High Street near the river. Coordinator Aundra Anderson said the new location was much less of a hassle to close for traffic than the previous location further up High Street.
Unlike previous years, admission to the street party was free. Guests could purchase food and drinks from individual local vendors. Anderson said attendance to the party increased due to the change.
Local performers Magician Ian Flinn and DJ Lonnie Butcher provided entertainment for the crowd of around 300 people. Flinn, who graduated this year from Washington College, said the secret to his all-ages magic show is making tricks fast and short to keep children’s attention. “With adults, you can tell a longer story,” he said.
On Saturday morning, Town Crier Steve Mumford led the Colonial parade down High Street. His brother Mark Mumford rode close behind in a horse-drawn carriage, serving as the parade’s grand marshall.
The parade featured several marching bands, floats and walking and riding groups. The Mayor’s Cup for best overall group was awarded by Mayor Chris Cerino to the Queen Anne’s County High School Band. The award came with a $125 prize.
Following the parade, guests were free to roam High Street and explore booths hosting artisans, non-profit groups and more food vendors than you could shake a musket at.
Many of the re-enactors from the parade could be found in the revolutionary village on the lawn of the court house. Harvey said that this educational component of the festival is hugely important.
A grant from the Maryland Heritage Foundation allowed the committee to hire more professional re-enactors for the Revolutionary Village, including Joan Adams who portrayed an African-American slave woman selling flowers and Kimberly Walters who taught guests about Colonial food preparation.
Adams, a Kent County native, stressed the importance of talking about the past. “These women had their children sold from them,” she said of slave women like the one she portrayed. “But some owners would allow them to have a patch of land and the crops on their days off.”
Harvey said that one of the most difficult parts of planning the festival is securing re-enactors as many decide which events they will be attending during a large conference in February. “The world of re-enactors is very much a world in and of itself,” she said. “Just because we had certain people last year doesn’t mean we will have them again.”
There were still plenty of performers on hand for the annual Tea Party re-enactment Saturday afternoon, when Colonists and Loyalists argued amongst one another about British taxes and traded musket fire while marching to the port at the foot of High Street.
The Colonists make their way to the merchant ship Geddes, portrayed every year by schooner Sultana. Cannons roar, fists swing and cartons of tea going flying into the water as spectators watch from shore.
The Garfield Center for the Arts provided a respite from the heat, hosting several indoor performances on Saturday.
This included two performances of “Revolutionary Theatre.” The show, titled “Tea for Madness” was written by Howard Mesick and directed by Sarah Crump. The script won a playwriting competition in January that sought scripts “with some connection to the Colonial-era and, if possible, Chestertown.”
Mesick’s show made toungue-in-cheek nods to the anti-marijuana propaganda film “Reefer Madness” and followed colonial youngsters William and Mary as they get caught up with bad company under the corrupting influence of tea.
The Tea Party Festival brings out the politicians, from Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino to Maryland delegates Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent, and Steve Arentz, R-36-Queen Anne’s.
Kent County Democrats and Republicans hosted booths along the main thoroughfare, touting their respective presidential candidates. Local resident Gene Davis posted on Facebook about an incident in which the campaigning went awry, when someone grabbed a Donald Trump sign from his 12-year-old son and threw it in the trash.
County Democrats often have special guests appear at Tea Party. This year, state Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-27-Prince George’s, was seen walking the around the festival.
“It’s a beautiful day,” he said.
In the final day of the Tea Party Festival, Jaws was sighted in the Chester River. Thankfully, the massive shark turned out to be an entrant in the annual raft race, the highlight of Sunday’s activities in Wilmer Park.
Also wowing the crowd was Optimus Brine, a seaworthy vessel that transformed from a semi-truck into robot — just like the leader of the Autobots of “Transformers” fame — when it crossed the finish line.
Five other rafts also joined in the fun, as did two youth entries.
Throughout the afternoon, live music was provided by the Lions of Bluegrass, Driven Women, Philip Dutton and the Alligators and Stephen Christoff and Gabe Stone.
The day’s entertainment was closed out by Slim Harrison and Friends, who led a children’s jug band and hootenanny. The crowd of kids played along on washboards and washtub bass, along with and banjos and kazoos they had made earlier in the day when Harrison led an instrument-making workshop. Children also enjoyed puppet theater as part of the day’s fun activities for the young.
Visitors to the park Sunday also enjoyed a craft beer and wine tasting, vendors and food throughout the afternoon.
In addition, at noon that day, a flag raising and an interfaith service led by the Rev. Mary Walker were held in Memorial Row, at the corner of Cross and High streets.
“It’s a true community effort,” Harvey said of the festival. “None of this would happen without the hep of nearly everyone in Kent County.”
Editors Daniel Divilio and Lena Ellwanger contributed to this report.