Lowell prepares for 25th Blackberry Jam

Although the Blackberry Jam Festival in Lowell is known for its three days of fun-filled activities – from pie making and eating to a car show and parade – the festival is really a celebration of community.
”It’s important to reinvest in our community, to believe in our community and to give people living here a chance to shine,” PJ Angelini, a Blackberry Jam Festival board member said.
The festival will celebrate its 25th anniversary Friday, July 26 through Sunday, July 28, and some old favorites are going to have some new upgrades.
One of the biggest changes will be the new grease pole, which board member Tim Stratis is preparing. Last year, the pole made headlines for breaking on the first day of the festival, a disappointment for kids hoping to scurry up the vaseline-covered pole and snag a $20 bill. Stratis is looking forward to having the tradition continue.
”It’s quite the contest,” he said. ”You see all kinds of winners.”
He recalled one year where two girls ages nine and 10, who were gymnasts, reached the top and made it to finals, where they competed for $50.
Another change to the greased pole is a separation into two age groups: 14 to 18 and under 13; this doubles the potential prize money to $180.
Stratis is also heavily involved in the pie baking and eating contest, having participated for over a decade and winning each competition about four times. About 30 pies that are baked for car show, and the rest enter the baking competition. Stratis said there’s around 200 people that enter the competition with around 40 to 50 entering for the pie eating contest.
”Pies is a big part of the weekend for me,” he said, adding that there is also a feeling of community that comes from being part of the festival for so long.
As a child, Savannah Largent remembers going to the first festival and how exciting it was. Now, her focus is on the Kidz Corner and bringing that joy to the other children in the community. Largent is part of the Small Town Superhero Group, which is made up of families looking for volunteer options to do with their kids. The group started last year, after families heard the festival had run out of prizes. Kids painted donation jars that were put in stores and raised money to bring into the Kidz Corner.
”It snowballed from there,” Largent said. ”We did the same thing with the coin donation and we’ve earned $150 so far, and it’s only the ninth.”
She added that it’s important for the children to have something to do during the festival, and the carnival in the Kidz Corner is a great way to do that. This year, they are implementing a stage to provide entertainment for the kids as well, including a ukulele player and a puppeteer.
Proceeds from the carnival will go to the local Girl Scout troop because they donate time to help run the games, as well as to a cystic fibrosis nonprofit.
”It’s the only festival for the town and it really brings community members – not just volunteers, but the community as a whole – together,” she said. ”The community involvement is huge. We’re really hoping (the Kidz Corner) will bring more people in. The more money we can bring in, the more we can bring in to nonprofits.”
Another anniversary the festival will be celebrating is the 15th annual quilt show. The show started when Lisa Bee-Wilson moved to the area in 2003 and attended the festival; she said it ”needed a quilt show.” She received support from the board members and the show has grown since, with 16 to 20 members. The show is broken into different categories and styles, and one of the exciting challenges the members do is incorporate one piece of weirder fabric into a project, and during the show all the interpretations of the projects are displayed together.
Another quilter, Gerry Burr, said that the show is their way to give back to the community they live in and use their specific skill set to do so. The quilt show has brought in between $2,000 and $4,000 for the community fire hall, food bank, school, library and grange.
Angelini said that although their goal isn’t just the money, the festival itself did start as a way to bring people and economic development to the community.
”People drive by Highway 58 and have no idea of the wonderful community we have here,” she said. ”This is a wonderful small town and I wanted to be part of something that brings joy to the community.”



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