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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

Bristol festivities draw large crowds

“OK, Ryan, don’t blow her up there!” shouted the loudspeaker, barely audible above the revving of the ’66 Mustang’s engine.

The engine is weak, though, in comparison to the two cars at the end of the row, a ’67 Camaro and a ’23 Ford T-Bucket. Bristol’s Better L8 Than Never Car Show, on Saturday Sept. 25th, attracted a large crowd. The spectators, perched above the contest on the baseball field bleachers, struggled to pick a winner for the Muffler Rap contest. In the end, the announcer presented the Camaro, a consistent contestant at the show, with the trophy.


The trophy presentation was followed by yet another competition, the Tuner Rap. The loud, powerful American muscle cars competed against the imported vehicles, driven by a younger generation of car enthusiasts. A team, who calls itself Matchbox Heaven, dominated this contest.

The Matchbox Heaven drivers, John Goodman and Chris Parent, have signature stickers on the right side of their windshields. The two are not a team in and of themselves, but are part of a 25-member car club, comprised of individuals from upstate New York.

Parent said that despite the shifting preferences of American car lovers from American muscle vehicles to what the older generation believes are “toylike, inflated Hot Wheels from Japan,” a vibrant car culture still exists in America

“We’re trying to keep it alive,” he said.

In hopes of perpetuating America’s car show culture, Matchbox Heaven has two clear rules: “don’t start drama and don’t start things with other clubs.” Spreading goodwill, even outside of the car shows, is an important goal for Goodman and Parent. They participate in car shows for church benefits, and in ones that raise money for cancer victims and for kids with diabetes. While Bristol’s show boasted free admission, donations to Camp Ta-Kum-Ta were suggested.

Bristol’s car show, for both the young and the old drivers, is less about the cars and more about the people who get to show off their cars. Diane Adam, a semi-retired Addison County native, said that she’s been going to car shows regularly for years, and sees the same general crowd at every Vermont show. She loves traveling around the state to each of the different car events.

“You’ll meet someone along the way and before you know it you’ve got 10 cars going someplace,” she said.

Most enjoy the small-scale shows, like the one at Bristol. At larger shows, of up to 3,000 cars, people from as far away as Indiana participate and they bring their quarter-million dollar cars. Bristol’s show only has 200 cars, so locals have a better opportunity to win in one of the 27 classes to which the cars are registered.

Many spectators also ventured down to the Bristol Harvest Festival, which complemented the car show. Blues harmonica player Mark Lavoie entertained crowds and played a song about migrant farm workers. The clear morning and summery weather suited all festival-goers, who sampled fudge and apple cider.

“We live in this sheltered part of the U.S.A,” said Lavoie. “The only thing we have to deal with is cold weather.”

The Harvest Festival, sponsored by the Addison County Chamber of Commerce and the Bristol Recreation Department featured a DJ, raffles and a flea market for all attendees.
Over 75 vendors sold locally grown food and artistic masterpieces with local images. The National Guard recruitment tent talked to festival-goers, while children enjoyed pony rides and apple pie. Food from various Bristol restaurants was also available for all to taste.

However, Sarah McGrath, a Bristol farmer, said that the stands don’t sell as much fresh produce as one would expect. People tend to gravitate toward the tents selling art and spend more of their money on the samosas at nearby restaurant, Euro Restaurant, than on bundles of kale leaves.

“Most people are here just to mozy around,” she said.

Vendors Sue Record and her daughter Jennifer Lavigne hoped this year’s festival would be as successful as the last one. Newcomers to the Vermont festival circuit, the mother and daughter team learned to make fruit preserves at a class in Burlington’s city market. Since then they have traveled to summer and winter markets around the state, garnering new ideas for recipes, like their famous spicy mustard.  Last year at the Bristol Harvest Festival, the two sold all their goods. They enjoy the opportunity and the encouragement that small festivals like this offer locals to participate and sell their food.

The wide variety of vendors at the Harvest Festival, who offered anything from massages to homemade jam to art made from acorns and wood pellets, maintained a relaxed and easy rhythm to accent the riveting car show next door.