49er Festival Hits New Heights


Aerobatics expert Bonnie Ritchey wows the crowd in “Firebug,” a Pitts S2A biplane. Photo courtesy of Tom King

Opening the festival on its traditional high note, three of our most talented and experienced aerobatics pilots treated us with daring flyovers. Bonnie Ritchey started the show in her Pitts S2A biplane “Firebug,” followed by Ken Talovich, a formation flying expert, in “Pride-and-Joy” a Van’s RV8. Armin Abusaidi, piloting “Big Purple,” an Extra-300, topped it off with some fancy flying.


Filled with tradition, like the Pine Cone Singers’ kick-off of patriotic songs, and some new surprises, like Chicken Dancing on Main Street, the 2022 49er Festival was the shot in the arm everyone wanted this year.

Chicken dancing down Main Street, John and Tonie Kiefer of Kiefer Insurance Agency join Shirley Horn in the memorial tribute to Grand Marshal Miguel Maldonado. Photo courtesy of Tom King.

"This year's 49er Festival was an amazing example of a community in action," said Festival Chair Patricia Epp. "As anyone who has volunteered to work a event like the 49er Festival knows, it takes a lot of planning, preparation, and people. It was great being a part of the first 49er Festival in two years and it was a pleasure working side-by-side with people who were willing to volunteer their time...whether their project was focusing on social media posts, serving at the beer booth, helping to organize the parade, or working one of the many elements of traffic control and safety. Without a doubt, we can be proud of what we accomplished, together, as a community."


Few realize that the 49er Festival is the Yosemite Chamber’s major source of funding; annual membership fees, which have not been raised since 2018, are a distant second. Final numbers are not yet in but all indications are that the 2022 Festival blew past the 2019 record by more than $10,000 in revenue and double the net profit, boding well for the Chamber’s ability to sustain operations and fund next year’s programs.


Who to thank for that? A lot of people, of course, starting with our sponsors whose support basically covered the festival’s expenses. Add those sponsors, members, vendors, and individuals who donated thousands of dollars worth of gift cards, products, and services for the raffle, silent, and live auctions, and the volunteers who helped gather, organize, and manage those popular festival activities. Oh, let’s not forget the wonderful festival-goers who bought raffle tickets and bid on all those great auction items.


This year, one sponsor in particular saved our chicken butts at the eleventh hour. Can you guess who?


When our 500 chili bags, printed on both sides with Hot Chili Charlie and our sponsors’ logos, showed up two weeks ahead (as scheduled), the printing quality was a disaster and we rejected the shipment. The supplier dragged their feet in offering a viable resolution. Two days before the Festival, we were up a creek with no chili bags. Following a frantic end-of-day call to our friends at Chicken Ranch Casino, we had 500 awesome (but a tiny bit weird) chili bags to stuff with festival goodies by noon the next day. Thanks a million, Chicken Ranch!


Closing one lane of CA 120 for the Parade takes advanced planning and coordination with CalTrans and CHP. Groveland CERT and parade volunteers helped organize the many entries and keep the parade route safe for festival-goers. Photo courtesy of Tom King.

Our partnerships with ROOFBB for the Raffle, with Groveland CERT for traffic control and onsite support, and with GCSD helped extend the Chamber’s limited resources to bring more structure to many of Festival’s key activities and critical services. Already, we’ve been de-briefing with these groups to record learnings and improvements for the next 49er Festival.


The 49er Festival is a labor of love. For more than four decades, people around town have been stepping up, rolling up their sleeves, and sharing their talents to make each 49er Festival better than ever. We won’t start planning 2023 until Spring, but your can toss your hat in the ring now to lend a helping hand next year. Just contact us!


We can’t do it without you.


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