The annual Gettysburg Festival is a celebration of the arts in all of its forms. There is stirring music of brass bands, American history, theatrical productions, open air musical events, good food and outdoor fun.
It was in and around this largely agricultural town that the most telling battle of the Civil War took place from July 1-3, 1863. There were 51,000 casualties during the battle of Gettysburg, about 8,000 dead. The war continued for another two years. Gettysburg was not a clear victory for the Union since the Confederate army made its retreat across the Potomac to fight again. The Battle of Gettysburg turned the tide of the war and crushed the South’s hope for a decisive victory in northern territory that would force capitulation.
The Gettysburg Festival recalls the pastoral splendor of Adams County and the rural life of Gettysburg as a largely farming community at a crossroads that made it critical during the battle. As prelude to the 150th anniversary of the Battle fought here, celebrations of fine arts under the banner of the Gettysburg Festival have taken place over the last six years.
This year’s festival offers more than 75 events in town and around Adams County for young and old alike. It is truly a moveable feast with art in the street, at farms, gallery events and, with the cooperation of Gettysburg College and the Lutheran Theological Seminary, on their campuses.
The college campus is one of the most beautiful in the U.S. with its ancient brick buildings, arches and columns, sprawling lawns and fountains. The Lutheran Seminary, on a hill overlooking town, was a historic place that saw generals use its cupola as an observation post during the battles. The seminary grounds provide magnificent settings where brass bands, some in elaborate military dress of the period, entertain.
One food event not to be missed is Blues, Beer and BBQ held on the Gettysburg College campus. The outdoor setting provides a comfortable venue to enjoy music while tempting treats of succulent brisket of beef sliced by a chef, ribs, homemade corn bread and muffins, shrimp cooked in garlic, scallions and spices, country slaw and fruit delight the palate. Band music drifts across the lawn. Guests can enjoy an old fashioned picnic on the lawn or at tables with wrought iron chairs shaded with umbrellas.
Not to be missed are evening programs at Christ Lutheran Church in town. The magnificent sanctuary was turned into a field hospital during the battle. Musicians and story tellers bring the agony to life through reading from nurse’s and wounded men’s diaries. The program is compelling. Talented musical voices add to the spiritual event. Guests are invited to sing along with the chorus during this candlelight program. Like most events, save for headliner concerts and food programs, the program is free and open to the public.
The eight-day festival this year included the Phil Dirt combo with a tribute to the Beachboys. The music was fun and visitors were invited to sing along and dance to tunes from the era. Many enjoyed swing on the grass. The audience had great fun reliving an era of nostalgic hit tunes.
The U.S. Army Concert Band and Soldiers Chorus put on a rousing performance. Rain forced them inside the Gettysburg High School auditorium. A torrential downpour outside did not dissuade the large audience from welcoming the musicians with rousing applause. Swing and popular music including songs from Don Quixote filled the auditorium.
The Majestic Theatre, in the heart of Gettysburg, has been restored to its original elegance. It is modern and old-fashioned at the same time. The theatre hosts headliners and projects classic films all year around. Its marquee is a throw back to elegant days of movie theatres, long before multiplex opened at malls with small screens.
The Majestic was home to a pie auction this year as well as screenings for Singin’ in the Rain. In past years Gilbert and Sullivan rang from the stage with production companies coming from England to perform during the festival.
By popular demand country music was provided this year by Hunter Hayes, an up and coming country performer. There are children’s art programs, exhibits at Schmuckler Gallery on the Gettysburg College campus and many Civil War brass band and history events. Street art is always fun. American Civil War Museum artisans offer living history encampments.
“The Gettysburg Festival is a lot more than tourism. The event is also about stimulating long-term economic development by showcasing Adams County as an attractive community in which to live and work. If a community puts on a good experience, then visitors will fall in love with the community,” Randy Prasse was quoted in the Gettysburg Times as saying. Randy is the new Festival Director. He has the awesome job, along with a devoted small staff, and a loyal following of volunteers, of coordinating the events.
The Lettermen headline the gala Saturday night performance at the Majestic Theatre this year. Cabarets in town offer evening fun in local bistros. Wineries open their doors to visitors and the celebration carries on long after the festival is officially over.
To participate in the Gettysburg Festival this year and learn about future events visit their website at www.gettysburgfestival.org. They are featured on facebook.com/thegettysburgfestival or on twitter.com/gettysburgfest. For other information call the event office at 717 334 0853.