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The Visalia Breakfast Lions Club Irish Festival

Feb 25, 2015 01:56PM ● By Brandi Barnett

Luck of the Irish

March 2015
By Fache Desrochers
Photos courtesy of Visalia Rawhide

If there’s one thing the Irish love, it’s a good toast. And rightly so. A toast is the ultimate shorthand for celebration, combining the two most essential elements of good times: a drink in the hand, and a wish for the health and happiness of friends and loved ones in the heart.
They say that on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish, and Visalia residents have long been happy to take that sentiment to heart. The city commemorates this luckiest of holidays with the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and a celebration of local craft beer called the Irish Fest. Presented by the Visalia Breakfast Lions Club, the Fest is spearheaded by members Nick Seals and Terry Culotta, who were looking for a way to celebrate for a cause. In addition to showcasing the best efforts of local brewers, 100 percent of the event’s proceeds go toward the Lions’ annual Thanksgiving turkey distribution, and to the other 30-plus local charities assisted by the club.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is historically the domain of Events Visalia, but this year will see the Lions Club taking charge of the parade as well as the Fest, and segueing from one to the other in a kind of perfect storm: if the parade is the rainbow, the Irish Fest is the pot of gold at the end, rather literally. The parade starts at Garden Street Plaza and terminates in front of the Vintage Press, just a few short blocks away from the Fest’s location at Rawhide Stadium, as if to illustrate the day’s suggested celebration schedule: parade, then lunch, and finally, adventures in craft beer.  
Participation in the parade is open to anyone, and this year’s processional will feature about 80 entries, including Grand Marshal Mrs. Jeanne Hoey, and the stylings of the district’s finest school marching bands. Mary Jo Eastes — a founding member of Events Visalia — is the Lions’ liaison for this year’s parade, and couldn’t be happier about the marriage of civic-minded community members. “Partnering with the Lions Club has been great; the members are incredibly helpful,” says Eastes. “They’re doers and givers.” She recommends showing up to the parade a bit earlier than its 10am start time, as this year will feature a few expositions on the street before the parade, including a “pickleball demo,” upon which a tight-lipped Eastes declined to elaborate. “It’s a surprise!” Eastes says with a grin. “You’ll have to come and see!”
Although it’s called the Irish Fest, this event’s brew selection is a celebration of craft beer that is much closer to home. “We try to source all our brewers locally,” says Seals. “And we work with local brewers and distributers to seek out anyone who might want to be a part of this.” As it turns out, quite a few people do. Visalia’s own Brewbakers and Sequoia Beverage Company are longtime participants, but the Valley’s best emerging brewers are always well represented. Kaweah Brewing out of Tulare, Tioga Sequoia and House of Pendragon out of Fresno, Riley’s Brewing Co. and Three Monkeys out of Madera, and Dustbowl Brewing out of Turlock are just a few of the vendors to get excited about. The Tulare County Homebrewers Organization will also be on the scene, showcasing the latest in local, small-batch brewing. Upon arriving at Irish Fest, ticketholders receive a 4-oz. taster glass, and are free to sample whatever strikes their fancy. But be sure to leave one hand free, because members of the Goshen Volunteer Fire Department will be on the scene as well, grilling up sausages to pair perfectly with your brews of choice.
And if a wonderland of local beers doesn’t get you into the spirit of St. Patty’s, the entertainment of the day certainly will. The contagiously festive sounds of Irish folk music will be provided by a live lineup, including local favorite the High Grade Pats.
The Irish propensity for general merriment is the lifeblood of
Visalia’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration, and the Lions Club and its organizers have taken thoughtful precautions to make sure that the good times aren’t clouded by worries of being able to get around safely. After its appearance in the parade, the Visalia City Trolley will repeat a circuit from Rawhide Stadium to the parking structures downtown to promote safe driving between the parade and Fest venues. Also servicing the event is We Be Sober, a local organization that drives both people and their cars safely home.
So this year, raise your glass high, and toast to friends, fun, and local community. Because after all, on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish. And if you are lucky enough to be Irish, well then, you are lucky enough.