The Bodega Volunteer Fire Department is just that – all volunteers, subsisting on little more than a community’s membership dues and a variety of fundraisers throughout the year. In 1980, Firechief Annie Springer suggested that in addition to the various breakfasts and feeds that took place throughout the year, perhaps there should be one grand fundraiser, one big party in which the entire town can enjoy each other and support their very own fire department.
Thus was born The Big Event. Named by a ten-year-old boy, the first event was a three-day affair complete with a dance, road race, volley ball games and live music. Kate Wolf, the venerated folk singer and West County resident was the first live performance at the Big Event, taking her stage as a flat bed truck parked in a field.
In the subsequent thirty years three days fell to two, two to one Sunday – the third Sunday of every August. While the scope of the event has ebbed and flowed its consistent trademarks carry on – the best in the county barbequed chicken and tri-tip served up with a heaping helping of salad and baked beans, home made desserts, a quilt raffle, a raffle-raffle and most importantly – a parade.
Yes, a parade. The route is simply and around the block thing – starting at Salmon Creek Road and Bodega Highway, the parade turns and heads south, turning again at Bodega Lane and following that back to its origin on Salmon Creek Road. Less than ¼ mile it takes about 10 minutes to go through. The parade is led off by Bodega’s fire trucks, followed by our Grand Marshall and our young Miss Bodega Red (named after the potato). From there…anything can happen.
By the time that parade starts at 10:00am-ish the little town is transformed into a carnival setting. Balloons adorn every doorpost and signpost…the tables are draped with colorful coverings. Fresh flowers are deposited here there and everywhere. Before it all starts there is the hushed anticipation, people running hither and tither silently until that engine horn booms and those trucks pull out to officially open the event.
For many years a best dressed dog contest was held – this became so popular that people from all over would schlep out their dogs, outfitted in humiliating grandeur, parade them through town and offer them up for a prize. Its been about five years since this contest was held but tradition dies hard. Folks still arrive at the Big Event with their dogs, dressed to the nines if for nothing more to be a part of this magical parade.
Every year the Llamas come – from all over Sonoma County, first to march in the parade then to be displayed, petted and cooed at in pens alongside the post office. More importantly though there is an important vote going on – for the “Lloveliest Llama”. At 3:00pm the winner is announced, presented with a placque and is marched about the crowd in front of the stage proudly.
Then there are the games. New ones are invented on a regular basis. For years it was the Cosmic Commode – a locally known character, politician or business person would have a seat as eager gamesters would pay their buck to chuck soft balls at the disk that would cause a bucket of water to drench the “victim”. More recent, it was the great potato race. The track – the roof to an ancient barn. The racers – Bodega’s own Red Potatoes. You bet your money, you choose your potato and their off! Winner takes all in the form of a free hamburger and fries from the Casino Bar and Grill.
It wouldn’t be a party without the music. As it happens, it costs money to do just about everything at the Big Event. Eat, drink, game – but not dance to the music. No – in Bodega, on the third Sunday of August – everybody’s sayin’ that the music is free. And it is, good, bad and indifferent. In thirty years we’ve been treated to local bands both fledgling and full on the club circuit as well as better known West County residents. Legendary blues man Nick Gravenites graced the stage at the Big Event for five years, bringing with him his throngs of followers and his guest musician friends such as Peter Albin (from Big Brother and the Holding Company).
It is through these “fun raisers” and the work of countless volunteers that are very own BVFD continues to not only function but thrive in the community. This year saw the fruits of 30 years of Big Events – the ground breaking and building of a brand new fire station. And not a moment too soon. On September 25, 2010 the Bodega Fire Department was alerted to a grass fire on Highway 1 just south of town. Within an hour the fire had jumped the highway and was closely threatening the little town of Bodega’s life and property. Along with Cal Fire and the assistance of thirty other fire departments from Sonoma County – most volunteer – the inferno was beat back and the town untouched. In the end there was one trailer damaged and one firefighter – one of our own volunteers injured. In the end, every penny on every piece of chicken and every glass of beer was well spent.
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