The streets of downtown Washington will once again be filled with whiskey rebels this summer.
Organizers for the annual Whiskey Rebellion Festival said Tuesday they will hold a scaled-down version of the popular event July 10 after they were forced to cancel it last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The one-day festival on a Saturday will look much different than past years, but will still include many of the memorable historic characteristics telling the story about the whiskey insurrection in this region that climaxed in 1794.
Joe Piszczor, co-chairman of the festival committee, said the event will follow CDC guidelines that will ask attendees to wear masks and socially distance from each other when possible. But Gov. Tom Wolf’s recent announcement to allow outdoor events at 75% capacity gave organizers confidence that they could pull off the festival on a smaller scale with safety in mind.
“We’re obviously sensitive to those guidelines,” Piszczor said, acknowledging that they could change again before July. “We’re going to be very strict with that.”
The popular street theater shows portrayed by reenactors will be moved to the garden behind the LeMoyne House. There will be fewer acts, but organizers hope to be able to livestream the performances on Facebook to let people who don’t feel comfortable attending the event to still enjoy aspects of the festival.
“It gives everyone across the country the chance to join us, which is a cool new thing,” Piszczor said of the virtual components that will be added this year.
Tracie Liberatore, executive director of the Bradford House Historical Association, said organizers debated whether to hold the event this summer as the pandemic continued and COVID-19 vaccines are being administered.
“We’re hearing two sides of it. Some people think we’re crazy and other people think we need to do it,” Liberatore said. “I think it’s very important for the community, especially with it being a free event. The families that are ready to get out and feel comfortable getting out, it’s a wonderful thing for them.”
The festival started in 2011 and gained popularity every year as it eventually expanded to a four-day event before last year’s cancellation. Organizers teased the announcement Monday afternoon by changing the background photo on the Whiskey Rebellion Festival’s official Facebook page to note that the event would return to its normal slot the second weekend of July.
There will be walk-through tours of the Bradford House and the new Whiskey Rebellion museum, both of which are located on South Main Street. Other details such as musical performances, vendors and activities are still being discussed, and will be announced periodically on the festival’s Facebook page.
Liberatore said they feel comfortable about holding the festival because of the amount of time between now and July to vaccinate a large swath of the population.
“If you’re not comfortable, do not come. We will have virtual things. We want everyone to take their health and safety first.”
Organizers are also sensitive to holding a festival centered around rebellion in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Piszczor said it’s important to discuss the region’s history and its connection to the first insurrection against the U.S. government in protest of a federal excise tax levied on grain alcohol, which disproportionately affected frontier distillers. Many historians credit the strong federal response to crush the rebellion as helping to bolster the legitimacy of the fledgling country’s government.
“How we’re portraying history, it will be a healing experience for all of us to come together and move the conversation forward,” he said. “It will be a good healing place for all of us.”