LODI — The Lodi Grape Festival, one of the last big fairs and festivals of the season, got underway Thursday.
For over 80 years, people have looked forward to the annual Grape Festival.
This year, security has been revised given the shooting incident at the Gilroy Garlic Festival last month.
Metal detectors and bag checks at the gates were standard long before the Garlic Festival shooting. That gunman cut his way in through a back fence from a wooded area.
While the Grape Festival grounds are in the middle of town, police patrols of perimeter fencing will be a priority.
Lodi police will also monitor security cameras and will deploy drones to survey the festival grounds.
Along with festival security, the police department will have an office on site and this year some of their officers will be carrying AR-15 assault rifles from time to time.
That kind of visible security is upsetting for Elizabeth Hayes.
“It’s probably going to make me safe but I’m still unsure about it,” she told FOX40.
Festival organizers have no problems with Lodi police officers bringing more firepower to the event on occasion. They got feedback from festivalgoers long before the gates opened by monitoring social media to gauge concerns.
“Most people said thank you. There was even a couple in there that said, ‘I wasn’t going to go but now I am,’” said Grape Festival CEO Ron Armstrong.
Of course, security is the last thing on the minds of people who will be in Lodi to have a good time and enjoy the exhibits featuring the crop that put the city on the map. For long-time attendees, family fun activities take people’s minds off security concerns.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt nervous coming here,” said festivalgoer Christopher Maldonado. “So I mean, definitely, it’s nice to have, they’ve always had it. So I feel good.”
And a boatload of kids activities is enough to take the focus away from security precautions, even if awareness is high behind the scenes.
“I don’t think there’s going to be one thing happening at the Lodi Grape Festival but we’re going to make sure that we’re ready and we know what to do, just like we always have been,” Armstrong said.
Festival organizers are hoping the four-day run will be uneventful, except for fun and enjoyment among the 70,000 people in attendance.
The Grape Festival opens each day at noon and the carnival rides close at midnight on Friday and Saturday.