Ask anybody who is even remotely familiar with Gilroy, and chances are they will bring up garlic. Clichéd, maybe, but for good reason.
Gilroy may be known as the “Garlic Capital,” but it only grows about 300 acres of the bulb. However, it earns its title thanks to the fact that most California garlic is processed in Gilroy, and Christopher Ranch, which produces nearly half of the nation’s garlic, is based here.
If that wasn’t enough, Gilroy hosts an annual garlic festival, one of the largest festivals in Santa Clara County.
The 41st annual Gilroy Garlic Festival is set for Christmas Hill Park July 26-28, featuring three days filled with garlicky treats, spicy contests and hot entertainment.
Executive director Brian Bowe said organizers have secured a number of new additions to the lineup as the festival enters its 41st year.
“We are always trying to reimagine things,” he said.
Perhaps the largest of them all is the headliner on July 27: Colbie Caillat with her new Nashville-based band Gone West. Caillat’s performance marks the first time a Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter will perform at the festival.
“It’s very exciting to present world-famous musicians of this caliber,” festival president Shawn Keck said. “We can’t wait to hear Colbie Caillat featuring Gone West live on the Amphitheater Stage. The festival benefits many community non-profits, and we know this addition will make an even bigger impact.”
Hailing from Malibu, Caillat has released six albums, including her 2007 double-platinum debut album Coco. She has sold more than six million albums and over 10 million singles worldwide.
With Saturday typically being the busiest day of the festival, Bowe said this year the festival grounds will remain open an hour later than usual, closing at 8pm.
“We want attendees to stay when it’s a little cooler in the evening,” he said. “It stays plenty light for us.”
A new signature cocktail, named the Whiskey Daisy, will be available at the festival.
There will also be celebrities aplenty.
The Challenge Butter Cook-Off Stage will welcome James Beard Award-winning chef, restaurateur and Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio on July 27, when he will host the Great Garlic Cook-Off. On July 26, MasterChef Season 9 winner Gerron Hurt will host both the Champions for Charity and Garlic Chef Jr. (for young chefs ages 9-18) cooking competitions. Real Housewives of New Jersey star and cookbook author Teresa Giudice will prepare some of her family’s favorite Italian dishes on Saturday afternoon. And on July 28, Alexander La Motte, executive chef at Rosewood CordeValle Resort in San Martin, will preside over the Garlic Showdown, in which professional chefs battle for a cash prize.
Tickets for the popular Caltrain Garlic Train (running on Saturday, July 27 and Sunday, July 28) will include connecting trips to as far north as San Francisco at no additional charge.
“That is one of the greatest ways to get to the Garlic Festival,” Bowe said.
Bowe said most festival attendees come from within a three-hour radius of Gilroy. Also new this year, the three-day pass to the festival can now be purchased by everybody, not just Gilroy residents.
More than 4,000 volunteers, mostly from Gilroy, work on behalf of more than 150 non-profit groups in the South Valley. Volunteering at the Garlic Festival has become somewhat of a fact of life for Gilroyans, many of which participate throughout the generations.
“It’s an incredible formula we have here in Gilroy,” Bowe said. “People here in Gilroy are raised to be a part of this event. It’s in people’s blood to be a part of the Garlic Festival.”
The festival’s beginnings were in 1978, when Rudy Melone, then the president of Gavilan College, read an article about a town in France that claimed to be the “Garlic Capital of the World” when it hosted its own garlic festival. Melone, a Gilroy resident, knew that claim wasn’t true, and set about bringing such an event home.
He eventually convinced Christopher Ranch owner Don Christopher to hold a garlic dinner at his Bloomfield Ranch in August 1979, with the garlic-laden food cooked by Val Filice.
Not expecting a large crowd, the organizers were stunned when 5,000 people showed up. They knew they had a hit, and the festival has continued every year since.
Since that fateful day in 1979, an estimated 4,482,259 people have attended the Garlic Festival. The attendance in 2018 topped out at 80,646.
In 2018, the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association announced distributions totaling $255,000 to 170 different charities and non-profit organizations, bringing the 40-year total to more than $11.7 million.
In the Volunteer Equity Program, instituted by the Garlic Festival founders in 1979, net proceeds from the three-day event are distributed to local schools, sports teams, non-profit groups and service organizations based on the number of hours logged at the festival by the volunteers representing those organizations.
For 2018, the top five beneficiaries were: Live Oak Emerald Regime ($11,788); Gilroy High School football ($8,601); Victory Outreach ($8,580); Christopher High School CAT Boosters ($7,474); and Gilroy Gators Swim Team ($7,346). More than $90,000 was raised by volunteers working on behalf of Gilroy Unified School District groups and organizations.
For information, visit gilroygarlicfestival.com.