One thing organizers of the Kern County Nut Festival learned after the inaugural event last year was that people come for the food, not for the adventure of hunting it down all over the sprawling grounds of the county museum.
"This year, they're hit with the food when they walk in, and they can see what's available" right away, said Roger Perez, executive director of the Kern County Museum, the host and chief beneficiary of the June 7 nut jubilee.
And the lessons don't end there. When you're Year Two into an event that supporters hope will become a Gilroy Garlic Festival-like extravaganza, the smart thing to do is listen and learn.
"With 10,000 people (last year), this is by far the biggest event that's ever happened here," Perez said. "We're hoping it'll be bigger this year. We're shooting for 14,000, but if we're even close to what we had last year, I'll be incredibly happy."
The festival celebrates the shining stars of the county's bounty of crops -- particularly almonds and pistachios, but also walnuts and, drumroll please ... pecans, which are new this year. The chief draw is the nut-themed food from a variety of local restaurants, but merchandise vendors, food demonstrations, beer and cocktails, live music, games and of course a variety of nuts will be part of the fun as well. The Running of the Nuts, a 1K and 5K walk/run the morning of the festival, also is returning.
Indeed, the festival, Perez said, is nuttier than ever.
"Nut puns were really rampant last year ... meetings degenerated very quickly," Perez said. "It almost put us on this path of (doing) nothing funny. This year, we're playing with it more."
"Nuttier" additions to the festival include a nut-based live art installation by Cal State Bakersfield students and a storytelling corner headlined by local Mark Twain impressionist Mark Bagby. But most additions or changes to this year's festival came from guest suggestions.
"This has been one of the most constructive events I've ever worked on," Perez said. "Quickly, people came back with comments like, 'I had a great time, but this might make it even better!'"
In addition to the centralized food layout, other changes, based on attendee suggestions, include additional entrances, a handy area where patrons can purchase nuts and the abandonment of one idea gone wrong.
"There isn't much that isn't returning, but there is one big one: Nut Bucks!" Perez said with a laugh.
Last year, guests exchanged money for the festival currency, an idea that sounded like a stroke of genius to planners but proved confusing and frustrating to patrons, who couldn't refund their Nut Bucks for actual bucks. Perez said they realized their mistake "immediately" the day of the festival.
Speaking of bucks, the festival raised $150,000 of the real kind last year, a boon of about $50,000 to the museum once the costs of putting on the extravaganza were subtracted. Although the museum receives annual county support in the form of $100,000, plus utilities, it is otherwise self-sustaining, Perez said.
"It's why this is really important," he said. "Nut Fest ... is keeping us around. It's our bread and butter."
And that means increasing turnout -- both from within and outside the county -- is crucial as the nascent festival grows into what organizers hope it will become. Like last year, the museum received a board of trade grant to help market the festival outside of Kern County.
Of the 10,000 guests last year, around 1,000 of them were out-of-towners, Perez said. For now, the planning committee is reaching out to towns in California with a similar climate, including Fresno, Visalia and Antelope Valley.
"When it's 100 degrees here, it's easier to get people from those areas here," Perez said. "With time (getting people from farther away) gets easier."
Perez and the planning committee hope the Nut Festival will become a large annual event bringing people to Bakersfield from all over the country, much like the Gilroy Garlic Festival, which gets about 100,000 guests each year. If and when attendance reaches 15,000, Perez said they'll be looking to expand the event to two days.
For now, though, Perez is focused on the task at hand: this year's festival, which is quickly approaching.
"The feeling of 'It's happening! There's nothing to do about it now' -- I love that rush," Perez said. "I always feel better once we have the tents up. It's too late by then; it's either going to happen or it's not."
While the first festival was the culmination of a few years' worth of planning, this year the planning committee condensed that process into a single year.
Planning for this year started "right after last year's finished. Right at 6:04 p.m.; we took three minutes off," Perez joked.
Planning and growing the massive festival is important to the museum for a number of reasons, Perez said. First, it celebrates a huge local industry.
"(Nuts) are healthy. That's a good thing to celebrate," Perez said. "There are lots of things that people talk about relating to Kern County, and not all are positive. This is a good thing to celebrate."
The festival also is a way to bring in tourists to boost the local economy, he said. And, of course, the festival benefits the Kern County Museum.
"It provides an opportunity for people to see this place," Perez said. "It's a gem -- a hidden jewel."
The festival celebrates some of the county's biggest crops (almonds, pistachios, walnuts and, new at the festival this year, pecans) with nut-themed food from a variety of local restaurants. Merch vendors, food demos, beer, live music, games and, of course, a variety of nuts will also be part of the fun. The Running of the Nuts, a 1K and 5K walk/run the morning of the festival, is also returning.
With such a good turn-out at the premiere event and a planning committee that listens to community suggestions, the Nut Festival is a source of much excitement for the museum. Perez hopes it's exciting for guests, too.
"It's a really low-cost, fun time," Perez said of the festival.
"That's it in a nutshell."