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Get ready for some carnival fun, fireworks and even a performing monkey as the 32nd annual Herndon Festival kicks off Thursday, May 31 and runs through Sunday.

More than 80,000 people are expected to take part in a plethora of weekend activities, which includes everything from a business expo to a 5-K and 10-K race to live bands playing throughout the three nights.

“This is the largest free festival in Northern Virginia and one that everyone in our area looks forward to,” said Jacqui Mathews, marketing specialist for Herndon’s Parks and Recreation Department, which puts on the event. “The weekend is full of things to do for young and old alike.”

The origin of the festival traces back to when a member of the Herndon Jaycees persuaded the former Parks and Recreation director, then-mayor and now House of Delegate member Tom Rust, that the town needed a good party. Today, that’s exactly what this festival offers, thanks to title sponsor Volkswagen of America and other generous sponsors.

Things begin at 6 p.m. Thursday with carnival games, food vendors and Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band performing on the main stage. A fireworks display starts at 9:30 p.m.

“I have grown up in Herndon and have been to the festival just about every year for the past 25 odd years,” said Herndon’s Chris Goddard. “As I have grown, my love for the Herndon Festival has never wavered. Thursday night is usually my favorite night as it isn’t as crowded, and the music is followed by fireworks.”

Friday’s fun starts at 5 p.m., with an arts and crafts show added to the mix. The three-day show features more than 115 artisans, in a variety of mediums, displaying and selling their arts and crafts.

“This fair draws a great crowd and a large variety of people,” said Diane Nastace, owner of Creations by Design, who produces one-of-a-kind handcrafted jewelry in Leesburg. “I did the fair for the first time last year and was very happy with the results and am looking forward to another great year.”

Herndon artist Mary Sears, who creates hand-painted glassware for Glorious Goblets, will be back for her 12th year.

“You see old neighbors, friends and customers, and it’s a really good time,” she said. “The nice thing about the Herndon Festival is the vendors make the things themselves, and I encourage people to come out and see the great artisans there are.”

Also beginning Friday is the Herndon Festival’s first-ever Kid’s Alley, an interactive area with street performers, games and entertainment aimed at the little ones. This replaces the Kid’s Stage, allowing different activities and more space.

“There will be everything from magicians to jugglers to the Monkey Man—showman Jerry Brown, who will be strolling the alley with his monkey Django to do tricks and interact with the children,” Mathews said. “We also have a very popular face painter.”

On Saturday, the morning will get underway with a 5-K and 10-K race, followed by a fitness expo at the Herndon Community Center, featuring a DJ, door prizes and lots of vendors.

The yearly business expo will be held during the weekend on historic Pine Street, with more than 50 vendors taking part. Flagship Carwash Center will be raffling off free carwashes for an entire year, while 7-Eleven will be giving away free Slurpees in their mobile unit at the top of the street.

Also new this year is a NASCAR Simulator, which mimics the racetrack experience, complete with competitors and near crashes. Other changes include separating the beer tents into different sections of the festival, adding wine for the first time and going with an Americana theme for the entertainment on Saturday evening.

Saturday night will also offer an elaborate fireworks display.

Of course, the popular model train exhibit will return, as will the children’s hands-on art area, and The Washington Wizards and Capitals mascots will be out and about.

“We anticipate this year being one of the best ever,” Mathews said. “This is a time for everyone in Herndon and the surrounding areas to come out, have some fun with their neighbors and enjoy a great weekend.”

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