Festival founder Larry McKown said he opened his restaurant Flannigan’s Inn, 450 Zion Park Blvd., Springdale, Utah in 1984. He said that year they planned a “Stew Festival” to celebrate the spring, and the “St. Patrick’s Day spring festival” was born.
“Let’s not dwell on that.” McKown said. “That was only the first year, but we did have live music with local bands and so forth, and it was a lot of fun.”
McKown said the festival quickly evolved into the Jell-O-spectacle it has become today; Jell-O sculpture, Jell-O queens and Jell-O eating contests can all be enjoyed at the all-day, family event. By the second year, McKown said the “stew festival” was a thing of the past, and the Zion Canyon Spring Festival/St. Patrick’s Day Celebration – as it has come to be known today – took its place for good.
McKown said that in 1985 Springdale had their first parade, and Jell-O sculpture contest. He said this was also the year that Yankee Clipper started to provide the musical ambiance, helping to set the tone of the tone of the Celtic frivolity to this very day.
Yankee Clipper band member Paul Rasmussen said he isn’t sure about ’85, and thought it might have been closer to ’86 that the group started performing at the annual event, but to the best of his knowledge they have been a part of the festivities from the earliest days of its inception.
He said that after a while, the Springdale voyage became a way to spend vacation time with the family. He said the infectious energy that came from the thousands of participants who would flock to the tiny town every year for the springtime fun would resonate with him after it was over, starting the New Year off on a good step.
“It’s sort of part of our life now,” he said. “I mean – that’s what we do – we come down here and it’s like our gateway to spring.
“We come over that rise, down into Toquerville, and drive through all of those trees in bloom and that’s like – ‘okay, spring’s here,’” he added.
Dean Cook, Design Canyon Visitors Bureau chair, said that the spring celebration is a good way for the community to rally together, and prepare for the millions of visitors that will pass through their neck of the woods in the upcoming tourist season. He said that while the town maintains its status with the tourists well throughout the season, he believes that nearly 75 percent of the yearly visitors who come for this event are from the Southern Utah and surrounding area.
“Basically we are trying to accomplish a couple of things,” he said. “One is to get us in the right mood, winters over, it’s time to have some fun, get ready… and secondarily to get ready for our visitors arrivals – some 3 million people who are going to be visiting Zion National Park.”
According to www.springdaletown.com the day’s activities will feature the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, complete with “world famous, award winning Rockville Precision Drill Team; The equally famous 2013 ‘Jell-O Queens’”, and much more.
Following the parade, McKown said there is lots of fun to be had at the Bit and Spur Park. He said there will be everything from live music, featuring Yankee Clipper at 4 p.m., to some fantastically creative Jell-O sculptures.
“We have actually had great chefs come down from Salt Lake and do sculptures,” he said. “Some of the local ones that have been great, we have had Mt. Kilama-Jell-O, a live volcano… we’ve had Michaelan-Jell-O, which was a large portrait made of Jell-O.”
He said that the sculptures get very creative year after year, and he looks forward to seeing what will come next. He said he believes that Springdale has the longest running green Jell-O sculpture contest in the world right now, but they haven’t had Guinness World Record verify the status yet.
McKown said his favorite part of the festival is the food and the music.
“That’s where we all have a great time,” he said. “The parade – it’s nuts, it’s crazy, it’s fun, like a bazillion pounds of candy gets thrown out – but the highlight of it all is afterwards at the Bit and Spur where there are literally thousands of people that show up at the park for all of the events that take place.”
In addition to the beer and wine garden, the Springdale ‘eatin’ house’s’ have plenty of old-world grub on the menu served up alongside a hefty helping of Irish hospitality and music McKown said.
The evening’s entertainment lineup includes a second performance by Yankee Clipper at 7 p.m. at Flanigan's Spotted Dog Cafe.
The Shakers will perform at Los Amigos at 9 p.m., and Zion Canyon Brew Pub will have Celtic music from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. when Erik the Red takes the stage.
Visitors expecting to watch the parade should be in town before 1:30 p.m. said Cook. He said the only road into town shuts down at about 2 p.m. and doesn’t reopen until the parade is over.
More information is available online at www.springdaletown.com
Correction: The Shakers were scheduled to play at Los Amigos on Friday, not Saturday. On Saturday they performed in Cedar City at Mike's Tavern.