Q & A with Brian RickardsAug 12, 2022 02:54PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
The annual Old Tyme Peach Festival has become known for the variety of its many events and activities, its large and enthusiastic crowds, and the fact that Brian Rickards has served as the festival’s chairman since 2006. As he and his fellow committee members began to put the finishing touches on this year’s festival on August 20, Brian spoke with Middletown Life about reintroducing the tradition after two years lost to the pandemic, the impact the festival has had on the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend community, and the rock star he would like to have dinner with.
Middletown Life: Welcome back! What can we look forward to seeing at this year’s Old Tyme Peach Festival?
Brian Rickards: I think we’re going to see much of what we all enjoyed back in 2019. Right now, it’s been very challenging for all of us to get back on our feet again after two years of sitting. Perhaps our largest challenge has been finalizing work on the annual parade, given that its route has used the Meredith Middle School and the YMCA at Silver Lake, which are both currently being renovated.
You’ve been the festival’s chairperson since 2006, but you first got involved the year before. What first got you interested in being a part of the Old Tyme Peach Festival?
I have five boys and four girls, and two of the boys were involved in the Cub Scouts at around that time. The year that my oldest son crossed over to the Boy Scouts, I was the chairman of the Boy Scout Troop 125, and we talked about the need for a trailer for our troop. We bought the trailer, and thought about conducting a fundraiser to help pay it off. I went to the Middletown Historical Society and asked if we could sell something at the Peach Festival to raise funding. They welcomed us, and as a result, we made $2,100 dollars simply by selling hot dogs.
Given that I had experience organizing home shows at the Chase Center in Wilmington, I volunteered with the Historical Society to organize vendors and the food at the festival, and I became the chairman the following year.
Heading into the 2020 Old Tyme Peach Festival, it must have been a very difficult decision for you and your fellow committee members to have to cancel such a popular event.
We begin to start planning the festival as early as January, because an event of this size truly needs the attention it deserves. We began early meetings, and at that point, we began to learn that it may not happen. As we headed into spring, I didn’t want to cancel anything just yet, because I was still optimistic that the pandemic would be gone in a few months.
Traditionally, we open the festival up to vendors in March, and of course, it sold out just as fast as we opened it up, but by June, the pandemic had grown, and I was forced to cancel the festival.
You were forced to make that same decision in 2021.
Last year, we geared up just the way we had done in years past, but I chose to hold the release date through March and April. In May, I had meetings with local and state officials and it wasn’t looking good, which forced us to have to cancel the festival again.
Of the more than 30,000 people who attend the Old Tyme Peach Festival every year, there are likely some who take it for granted that it just magically appears every year. Take me into the wheels of the machine of what makes the festival run.
There are seven core members of the committee on board, and although I wish I had more, we work well together. In past years, I have had no problems meeting deadlines, but this year, I have had some struggles with maintaining all of them, but I simply kick myself in the rear and get it all done.
Sometimes I look back to past festivals and think, ‘We are essentially putting on this entire festival with practically nobody,’ but several of my children and my wife chip in as well, and that helps to get this festival on every year.
The Old Tyme Peach Festival began in 1993 to honor the role the peach-growing industry had on Middletown in the 1800s, but in many ways, it has come to mean so much more for the people of Middletown, Odessa and Townsend.
It’s about the largest component of our history, because the peaches are what made this area what it is today. Who we are now is because of the industry that made us.
What are your most favorite moments of the festival?
My excitement starts at about three o’clock on Friday afternoon, when I begin to lay out the vendor booths. My boys will bring their friends and we’ll drive around the grounds on the golf carts to make sure we’re ready for the next day. As it gets closer to morning, it becomes a serious emotion of ‘My God, what did I just do?’ As the festival kicks off and I begin to see the people arrive, my emotions then change to ‘My God, I have done this.’
After the festival, I am able to ride that high for about the next two months and then I realize that I have seen too many people and I just want to be left alone.
What is your favorite spot in Middletown?
This is a tough choice, but I would have to say The Texas Roadhouse off of Route 301.
You host a dinner party and can invite anyone you wish. Who would you want to have around that table?
A similar question came up to me a while ago. I would like to have an eat-and-greet with Ozzy Osbourne.
What food or item can always be found in your family refrigerator?
Ketchup. When you have nine kids, you need a lot of ketchup.
- Richard L. Gaw