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A Green Light to be Tickled Pink

Winchester celebrates 100 years of star-studded Apple Blossom Festival

April 2024

  • This year marks 100 years of Apple Blossom, a pinkand-green-colored celebration that has grown exponentially from its modest start honoring the local apple industry.
  • Festival officials estimate the two-week extravaganza provides a $10 million impact on the regional economy.
  • Some of the biggest names in sports have visited the festival, including Pittsburgh Steeler NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw in 2022.
  • Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. takes part in the parade in 2016.
  • Well-known celebrities are a big draw for festivalgoers, and the festival is a big draw for celebrities, such as actor Kirk Cameron in 2016.
  • NASCAR’s Bobby Labonte was the firefighters’ parade marshal in 2017.
  • One of the marquee events of Apple Blossom is the Bloomers’ luncheon for women, scheduled for Friday, May 3.
  • Actor Sean Astin crowns his daughter Elizabeth as Queen Shenandoah XCI at the 2018 Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester.


by Preston Knight, Contributing Writer

Let’s play a quick game, courtesy of comedian Jeff Foxworthy.

You might be a Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival enthusiast if: “I have a special section in my closet for pink and green,” answers Hannah Stewart, a longtime attendee.

She proudly declares this, as do many others like her who have grown up in the Winchester area. For them, and tens of thousands coming their way from out of town, this is bloom time.

This year marks 100 years of Apple Blossom, a pink-and-green-colored celebration that has grown exponentially from its modest start honoring the local apple industry.

It was originally a one-day gathering to mark the passing of winter’s hardships and welcome the blooming of pink-and-white apple blossoms of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

The festivities today include at least 50 events spanning a two-week period, this year from Friday, April 26, to Sunday, May 5. Over 200,000 festival attendees are expected to immerse themselves in everything Winchester has to offer.

Well-known celebrities — not Foxworthy, necessarily, but at least his status level and even more famous — and Hall of Fame sports guests often make event appearances, speak and ride through the historic streets of Old Town Winchester during a pair of parades.

Stewart, membership development specialist for Winchester’s Top of Virginia Regional Chamber of Commerce, will be watching again.

“It’s something that has been giving back to the community and supporting our community for 100 years. That’s pretty incredible,” she says. “It brings thousands of people here and helps our businesses grow and thrive.”

And Stewart will take advantage of her pink-and-green wardrobe selection to fit in with the crowd.

“It’s time to get into it,” she says.


Festival officials estimate the two-week extravaganza provides a $10 million impact on the regional economy. Support comes from the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s “Virginia is for Lovers” campaign, which assists with marketing efforts and brings awareness throughout the East Coast.

In the spring of 1924, with assistance from the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association, the city of Winchester volunteered to host the first Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, officials say. The festival was created to showcase the northern Shenandoah Valley and recognize its apple industry, which remains a major part of Winchester’s agricultural industry.

While 2024 is 100 years, it’s not the 100th festival. That will come in 2027. It halted operations of its springtime celebration during World War II.

Apple Blossom shares the 100th anniversary milestone with the opening of the city’s historic George Washington Hotel, the first graduating class from Winchester’s John Handley High School, and the founding of the travel association, all of which are longstanding partners to the festival.

Shenandoah Valley and Rappahannock electric cooperatives are among other annual sponsors. Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative serves Winchester, while the two co-ops split coverage of the surrounding Frederick County.

The festival calls on a network of over 2,000 volunteers and local businesses to plan it. Dozens of local civic groups, schools and youth charities rely on the festival to raise funds for their organizations through the sale of concessions, souvenir programs and grand-feature parade seating.

Although the festival has changed tremendously since 1924, it still observes many traditional events, including the coronation of Queen Shenandoah, dinners and dances, parades and nostalgic luncheons. Targeted audiences for select events fall into just about any category: veterans, sports lovers, art enthusiasts, gamers, kids and more.

“There is something for everyone,” Festival President Sharen Gromling says.


One of the unmistakable draws is the chance to mingle with celebrities and childhood heroes. Trying to compile a short list of those who have participated in Apple Blossom is sure to leave many stars out, but a quick jaunt through attendees from the last couple of decades illustrates the festival’s pull.

To alter Gromling’s quote above, there is “someone” for everyone when it comes to the festival’s ability to attract big names.

Do you need Hollywood stars? Chevy Chase, Jim Belushi, Wayne Brady, Mario Lopez, Val Kilmer and Mary Tyler Moore visited.

Are you more into the music scene? Kevin Jonas, Wayne Newton, Sara Evans, Scotty McCreery, Fantasia Barrino and Brenda Lee have graced the streets.

Do you like sports? You’ll love these names. Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Cal Ripken Jr., Jerry Rice, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Terry Bradshaw and Dan Marino have sported pink and/or green in springs past.

Or, maybe you want someone more presidential? President Gerald Ford was minister of the crown in 1975, when his only daughter, Susan Elizabeth Ford, was Queen Shenandoah. The Ford connection continues this year with Joy Elizabeth Berlanga, Ford’s great-granddaughter and a high school senior in Texas, as Queen Shenandoah XCVII, designate. Joy is the daughter of Tyne Vance Berlanga, Queen Shenandoah in 2001, and the granddaughter of Susan Ford Bales.

Stewart, from the local chamber, says her fiancé gushed about meeting Sean Astin in 2023. The “Lord of the Rings,” “Rudy” and “The Goonies” actor might as well take up residency in Winchester, though.

Astin’s three daughters have all been crowned queen, and he was the feature parade’s grand marshal in 2004.

“It’s just cool to be in the same room as a bunch of celebrities,” Stewart says. “That’s not something you get to do in Winchester. And they’re just as excited to be there as you are.”

Dario Savarese, the festival’s marketing director, says word of mouth among celebrities does much of the legwork. When they see other “legends” have attended past events, and then hear from those stars that they enjoyed their time, the festival starts to sell itself, he says.

“This is where we talk about the ‘aha’ moment for them,” Savarese says. “We’ve heard different celebrities say it’s an ‘aha’ moment they get after they’ve attended because they didn’t fully know what to expect. They see there’s this community that comes together for all these events.

“It’s difficult to explain. But when you live it, you feel it,” he says.

Dan Bonner, a college basketball television broadcaster who lives in Augusta County, was deemed a festival “celebrity” in 1996-97, and his memories match Savarese’s description of how dignitaries tend to walk away impressed.

“Our children were relatively young, and they were thrilled to attend the circus, where they loved the elephants, and they thought riding in the parade was about as big time as possible,” Bonner says. “Since my wife and I had a few events to attend, my mother and father also came with us to watch the kids while we attended those events, and they thought the whole thing was great, too.

“I have lots of really good ‘general’ memories of enjoying myself at a well-organized event run by extremely nice people.”

He recalls being a “little starstruck” by meeting Darrell Green, a Washington Redskins’ icon who was the festival sports marshal in 1997. Bonner says he bought a tuxedo for the event, picking it up on the way north on Interstate 81 about 80 miles to Winchester, when he discovered the shop that made alterations mixed up his pants for those of a much-smaller person.

“So, my ‘new’ tuxedo was pants-less,” he says. “Fortunately, I had brought along a pair of black dress pants for some other festival event, and they served for the night. To this day, I hope nobody noticed.”


Unlike her chamber of commerce colleague, Jenny Stover — Top of Virginia’s director of marketing and communications — is not a Valley resident who grew up on the festival.

Over her dozen years as a local, she’s adapted, and created her own tradition with her family. They prefer the activities pegged for Friday, May 3, this year, including a kids’ race, firefighters’ parade and fireworks display.

“It all happens in one spot,” Stover says. “We get our fill and get to do so much, and not leave that location. We check a whole lot of boxes. You get to feel the pulse and heartbeat of Apple Blossom just that Friday night.”

With events the preceding seven days from May 3, and still two more after, you have many other opportunities to soak it in. There’s no wrong way to get the festival experience, the chamber representatives say, but there are a few factors for consideration to make the most of it.

If you’re coming from out of town, spend the night in a hotel, and book it as early as possible. As in, if you’re reading this and fall into that out-of-town category, you might want to stop now and start making such arrangements. The last few paragraphs of this article can wait.

For locals or visitors, the non-festival options to occupy your time are plenty in Winchester and Frederick County.

Ag-related attractions, such as markets and orchards, are popular along with the Shenandoah Spirits Trail, a network of wineries, craft breweries, cideries and distilleries extending 60 miles south to Harrisonburg.

For festivalgoers, Stewart advises parking away from downtown Winchester (also known as Old Town) and walking to events, which gets you out of traffic and into the path of local vendors and businesses that could use your support. Old Town features an assortment of over 100 artisan boutiques, bookstores, apparel shops, jewelers, restaurants and more. It also can occupy any history buff’s time with museums and markers noting the area’s significance to the Revolutionary and Civil wars.

Whatever your itinerary becomes for Apple Blossom, Stewart says to research what you want to do and have a rain jacket handy.

Oh, and wear pink and green, she adds. “Most of all,” Stewart says, “have a good time.

For more information, visit thebloom.com.