For 361 days of the year, Kernville is a tranquil town of rubber-duck races, fishing and other outdoor fun. But for four days around Presidents Day, the town revisits its wild west past.
Whiskey Flat Days packs the holiday weekend with events that recall and honor the area's pioneer past or just promise a fun time for all.
About 50,000 visitors are expected to attend the festival, said Mandy Eastes, secretary at the Kernville Chamber of Commerce.
Rain during the busy days last year hurt attendance but the forecast is much better for this weekend — sunny and mid- to high-60s, according to the National Weather Service.
Regardless of the weather, most of the people you spot out and about will be out-of-towners, Eastes said.
"Most of the locals either hide on Whiskey Flat weekend or they go and check out the food booths," she said.
Food concessions, serving an assortment of festival fare, are often run by local groups like the FFA and Sweet Adelines so treats are purchased for a good cause.
Eastes said she doesn't get to see much of the festivities since she's working at Cheryl's Diner, her grandmother's restaurant. While working, though, she is able to visit with any of the dozens of vendors, who set up for the weekend selling an assortment of hand-made accessories, home goods and other products.
One new vendor is selling firestarters, flammable wood elements that help when starting a bonfire.
"It's really neat wood; you start the fire inside the wood."
In order to accommodate the vendor, the booth will be set up at the Wild West Daze Rodeo, the first instance of a vendor at the annual event.
After decades of celebrating, the annual event is pretty dialed in. But there are a few updates this year, including:
This year will feature a Movie Night courtesy of the Kern Valley Museum. The two films — "Border Patrol" and "Roll on Texas Moon" — were both filmed in old Kernville before the construction of the Isabella Dam. The former, from 1943, stars Western star Hopalong Cassidy playing a Texas Ranger who investigates the disappearance of workers hired by the "Silver Bullets" mine. The latter is a 1946 Western starring Roy Rogers, who aims to head off a range war between cattlemen and sheepherders. The screenings, being held Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., will also offer a preview of filmmaker Chuck Barbee's "Wild West Country," a new docu-drama about the Kern River Valley.
(If you're in the area Thursday night, head over to the Starlite Lounge, where Barbee will screen the film in its entirety with live commentary. The event is from 5 to 8 p.m. at the lounge, 13423 Sierra Way in Kernville.)
This year's costume contest will be even more intense, Eastes said, keeping with the theme "Takin' Back Time." The goal is to dress as far back in the area's timeline as possible. Those in 1860-era garb will also need to explain what makes their look authentic to the period. Other contests include Whiskerino (for longest and bushiest beards and mustaches); pet parade; and pies, jams and jellies.
And, although it's been a tradition for the past 61 years, the parade prompts an important reminder, Eastes said. Last year the Saturday event was moved to 10 a.m., which confused some longtime attendees. Eastes cautioned people to bear that in mind when heading into Kernville, whether they want to see it all or just avoid a traffic jam once it starts.
Preparation continues all week for the event. Speaking from the chamber office on Wednesday, Eastes said she was contending with the sounds of tree frogs, which had arrived via UPS from Tennessee, and were chirping in a box on her desk. The amphibians are the stars of the frog jumping contest, which takes place over Saturday and Sunday.
After the 40 frogs compete, each representing a local business, they are either given away as pets or released into the wild, she said. But until their big day, they stay put in the office.
"They have to be cold," she said. "That’s why we have to keep them in the fridge."