Last year, Stockton natives and promoters Tony and Carol Noceti rescued the Stockton Asparagus Festival from oblivion, just as they did the Stockton 99 Speedway in 2009.
Originally held at Oak Grove Regional Park, the Stockton Asparagus Festival in 2005 relocated to the Weber Point Event Center along the downtown waterfront. Growth and prosperity did not follow. After 29 years of celebrating the Central Valley vegetable, the festival closed in 2014 due to financial woes and falling attendance.
That’s when the Nocetis stepped in. They rebranded the fest to the San Joaquin Asparagus Festival, moved it to the San Joaquin Fairgrounds and debuted it last April. The couple lacked partners and sponsors, but insisted their experience from operating the speedway (and a construction company and 3,000 acres of farmland) qualified them to get the job done.
Last year’s inaugural festival drew 70,000 people, compared with 55,000 at the previous festival’s final year. “The response has been above and beyond anything we anticipated,” said Carol Noceti. It returns to the San Joaquin Fairgrounds April 15-17.
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Q: Tony, why did you and your wife, Carol, pick up the festival?
A: We’re more than just promoters; we’re business people, and I was born and raised here. The festival is the crown jewel of (the attractions) Stockton has always had, and we weren’t going to let it leave town.
Q: What does the new festival have?
A: A petting zoo, a carnival and games, a monster truck ride, a health fair, arts and crafts, live entertainment on three stages, a beer and wine pavilion and a recipe contest. We’re bringing back the asparagus-eating contest, but with amateurs. Our 5K Super Heroes Run will be held April 16.
Q: What else?
A: We’ll also have (brick-and-mortar) buildings and bathrooms, tables and chairs, places for people to sit and relax.
Q: What kind of crowd do you expect?
A: I think we’ll surpass the old record of 104,000 in 2008. The fairgrounds are bigger (than the waterfront); there are more trees and amenities.
Q: What did you learn from last year’s event?
A: It was all new to us, but we got the ball rolling. We’ve worked hard at making it affordable for families, and we’re making it easier to get folks into the property. Regional Transit is on board with shuttle buses, and we’ve hired a professional car-parking crew. We’ll have more lines at the gates and an army of 1,500 volunteers.
Q: The event has always been one of Northern California’s signature food festivals.
A: More than 60 of the 300 vendors will sell asparagus dishes and specialty items. Asparagus Alley (will specialize in) deep-fried asparagus and asparagus ice cream. Vendors will sell 12 types of asparagus dishes at (adjacent) Asparagus Plaza.
Q: Bacon-wrapped asparagus, asparagus corn dogs and asparagus nachos. Your favorite?
A: The deep-fried, of course. It’s what the festival was built on.
San Joaquin Asparagus Festival
10 a.m.-8 p.m. April 15-17 at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds (1658 S. Airport Way, Stockton)
Tickets: $10 ages 18-59; $7 ages 13-17; $5 ages 6-12; free for 5 and younger; $7 students, military and 60-plus with ID. Parking is $6. Discount tickets at Save Mart and Smart Foods markets.