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Rod Thornburg / Special to The Californian

Eilene and Denise Rocha, Nicole and Vanessa Enriquez, and Laura Payan enjoy the festivities at Village Fest in 2012.

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John Harte / Special to The Californian

Volunteer Sarah Fuentez pours a brew for a patron at Village Fest at the Kern County Museum in 2012.

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John Harte / Special to The Californian

About 7,000 people are expected at this year's Village Fest at the Kern County Museum.

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John Harte / Special to The Californian

Jerry Caneta welcomes visitors into "Big Kahunaville" at the 2012 Village Fest at the Kern County Museum.

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John Harte / Special to The Californian

There was ample opportunity to pig out at last year's Village Fest, with about 68,000 food samples served, including this offering by Lengthwise Brewing Co.

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John Harte / Special to The Californian

Volunteers Cherie Anderson and Tracy Fuentez, right, point out the various brew offerings to Johnny Bonello at the 2012 Village Fest at the Kern County Museum.

After 18 years, Village Fest is a by-the-numbers event: 39 restaurants, more than 60 breweries (and a couple of dozen wineries), 17 bands, 500 volunteers, 16 acres and status as the No. 1 party of the year.

That's according to Village Fest co-founder Ralph Fruguglietti, who struggled to describe the event -- scheduled for Sept. 7 at the Kern County Museum -- beyond its marketing-friendly title as "party of the year."

"The 'party of the year' describes what we do. ... We keep trying to evolve it so it's not always the same event. The Cal State barbecue, it's the same type of thing -- an opportunity to get together with friends. It's (Village Fest) that, but with the way that it evolves, we just keep adding to it."

Among those additions is a craft brew area, part of newly expanded La Cantina Ville -- one of five lands in Village Fest -- which is set in the museum's Burke Memorial Plaza. The new area hearkens back to the event's roots.

"(When) Rick Peace and I started it 18 years ago, it was more of a classic beer festival. Most of the beer festivals at the time were specialty microbrew beers being showcased."

Since a microbrew is defined by the number of barrels produced annually (under 15,000), the focus is now on craft beers, specialty beers that can be made in larger volume.

"A lot of large brewers are brewing some very special beers. That's why the whole craft brew area has grown nationally. You can be a craft brewery regardless; It's not about the size. More specialty beers are available out there."

Although Fruguglietti didn't have a list of the craft beers that will be on tap, he said Lengthwise Brewing Co., an event sponsor, will feature prominently in the new area.

Speaking of sponsors, another change this year is the increase in sponsored skyboxes, which are set adjacent to stages throughout the museum grounds.

"Companies can rent a skybox for the event. This way they're five feet off the ground, get a great view of everything. You can invite co-workers, business acquaintances. ... Those have really taken off. Three years ago we started with one. Now there are six."

Attendees might want to buddy up with big business if they want to get a good spot to watch the thousands of people expected at this year's festivities.

"When it's all said and done, we have in the neighborhood of 7,000 people there. It gets crowded, but it's a really fun environment."

If that number sets off some agoraphobia, Fruguglietti said not to worry.

"We control what our sellout is going to be, and 7,000 is a comfortable number. That's a good size. Where we are is where we want to keep it.

"If you have nobody out there, you have all the space in the world but you're not at a really fun event. It's like New Year's Eve in Times Square -- if there are only 100 people you probably wouldn't want to be there."

And spread over 16 acres, you're "never more than four or five minutes away from any area." That's good news considering the musical lineup, which includes local favorites such as Foster Campbell and Friends, Thee Majestics, Fatt Katt & the Von Zippers, Dub Seeds, Fat Daddy Blues Band and The Councilmen.

Along with local bands, the event lineup got a boost with the addition of a headliner, up-and-coming country performer Matt Stillwell. Music fans will be happy to note that the website (bakersfieldvillagefest.com) now lists performance times and locations for all the bands, so you won't miss a minute.

Sports fans can relax in peace in the sports tent, modeled after a similar offering at the Bakersfield Business Conference, that has seating and a slew of big-screen TVs to keep you up to date on scores.

Also easing attendees' comfort will be brew caddies, which offer a hands-free option for the sampling glass.

"We started that last year. We sold out on those right away. You've got this glass and you don't want to put it down. Guys aren't going to put it in their pocket. Women aren't going to be carrying purses. ... We doubled our order this year (to 1,000)."

Fruguglietti said the caddy, which will sell for $10 in the souvenir area, is best used when you've stopped to chat, eat or take a bathroom break.

"You could have beer in it also. But I wouldn't recommend walking with it."

The other major component of Village Fest is the food, which will be in abundance from dozens of local restaurants.

"We have a pretty good mix. All we try to stay away from is the fast food. It's not about feeding people, it's about sampling, ranging from casual to some fine dining. ... We want them to promote their business with quality food."

Vendors include Fruguglietti's own Frugatti's Italian Eatery as well as Cafe Med, Salty's BBQ & Catering, Steak & Grape, Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, Wiki's Wine Dive & Grill and Firehouse Restaurant.

Although no children are allowed at Village Fest, local youngsters are the beneficiaries of the popular annual event.

All money raised at the festival goes toward Children's Advocates Resource Endowment (CARE), which Fruguglietti founded. Last year's event netted just over $155,000.

"We used to donate to larger charities. If they're national charities, some of the money goes out of the area. We started CARE for the simple reason that we could control the board. That way we can control when people put in a request for the money."

Each spring and fall, people can request a grant from CARE for specific requests that benefit children in Kern County.

Jim Luff, CARE president, said priority goes to requests that benefit the most children.

"Chad Jackman with the Bakersfield Police Activities League said he wanted to build a soccer field. We provided it all -- the uniforms, the balls, the nets, even socks. The first year, 400 kids played there."

With Village Fest, CARE's largest fundraiser, 40 percent of the proceeds is pooled to fill grant requests while the remaining 60 percent goes into an endowment fund.

Luff said the fund is currently at about $440,000, nearly halfway to the goal of $1 million. That would ensure the organization's legacy to benefit local children.

"Should we ever stop producing the event (Village Fest), CARE as a foundation could continue to provide grants for years," Luff said.

Village Fest is still over a week away, but Fruguglietti is urging everyone to buy their tickets now.

"Bakersfield is a last-minute town," he said. "They know this is coming up, they know the date of the event -- the first Saturday after Labor Day. We sell almost 75 percent of the tickets the week of the event. It's always the same thing."