Prior to 2007, North Dakota had not named a state fruit. Williston students in Nancy Selby’s sixth grade class reached out to state lawmakers as part of a persuasive letter writing assignment, which in turn led to legislation designating the chokecherry as the State Fruit of North Dakota. Senator Stanley Lyson and Senator Nick Hacker sponsored Senate Bill 2145, and Governor John Hoeven signed the bill into law on March 29, 2007. Williston held the first North Dakota Chokecherry Festival August 18, 2007. The celebration has continued to evolve and grow each year.
Longtime festival supporter Nemont will kick things off at 4pm with the 1000 Burger Feed (free burgers for as long as they last!) and another annual sponsor, American State Bank, will be offering free ice cream sundaes with chokecherry syrup while supplies last. This year, three live acts will entertain on Friday evening. Minnesota’s First Family of Music, the Peterson Family, will kick things off right at 4p. Everyone in the Peterson Family is a musician and singer who has been performing locally, nationally, and internationally for many years with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Bob Dylan, Prince, Kenny Loggins, and countless others. They were inducted into the Midwest Music Hall of Fame and collectively have 100 gold and platinum records. They will be followed by The Jensen Sisters at 5:30p and Bianna & The Outsiders at 7p.
Festival attendees are encouraged to browse vendor stalls and enjoy the music, then return to Harmon Park with blankets and lawn chairs for an outdoor animated family movie at 10pm, “Coco.”
The festival continues on Saturday with a free pancake breakfast prepared by local Lions members starting at 7:30a while supplies last. Runners of all ages are encouraged to take part in the Chokecherry 5k and 1 mile fun run. Registration will begin at 8a.m. with the race starting at 8:30a.m. More live music will fill the park on Saturday, featuring local favorites Brian Salveson, DMJ Band and Gettin’ Outta Dodge. The Jensen Sisters return on Saturday to play at 1:30p and North Dakota songbird Jessie Veeder will be performing an acoustic set at 2:30p.
Kids will love participating in the popular Chokecherry Stroll on Saturday. All children are encouraged to dress up however they like, decorate their bikes and wagons, and meet at the tennis courts at 9:30a to parade through the park. Kids who participate in the stroll will receive a raffle ticket for fun prizes! The Kids Chokecherry Pit with children’s activities will open at 10 a.m. It features face-painting, a chokecherry pit-spitting contest (noon), water themed inflatables, and other free family activities.
New this year, the XPOGO Stunt Team will be performing at the festival on Friday evening and Saturday. This group of traveling stunt artists have performed all over the world. They will be doing three preview performances at Ryan Motors starting at 11a on Friday. Stop by the dealership for food, yard games and to check out the XPOGO Stunt Team before the Chokecherry Festival officially starts at 4p Friday afternoon.
The Ultimate Air Dogs, a nationally-acclaimed dock dog jumping organization (www.ultimateairdogs.com), will return to the ND Chokecherry Festival on both Friday and Saturday with demonstrations by their own dogs and competitions for the public throughout the day. The North Dakota Chokecherry Festival is a regional qualifying event for the Ultimate Air Dogs National Championships in the fall. All ages love watching the Ultimate Air Dogs. The public is encouraged to bring their water-loving, people friendly furry family members to participate at the festival. All sizes, breeds and ages are welcome, as long as they can swim!
Bear Hollow Wood Carvers are returning as well. They will offer live chainsaw carving demonstrations all day on Saturday. Their finished artwork will be available through a silent auction in the park, with proceeds going to support the festival.
The North Dakota Chokecherry Festival also features a car show at the south end of Harmon Park and a cornhole tournament beginning at 10a (competitive league) and 11a (family fun league).
The North Dakota Chokecherry Festival is supported the Williston Convention & Visitors Bureau as well as many business and individual sponsors. Events like the ND Chokecherry Festival could not happen without public support and sponsorship. If you are interested in being a festival supporter, contact the CVB. For more information, view the North Dakota Chokecherry Festival Facebook page (www.facebook.com/chokecherryfestival) or contact the Williston Convention & Visitors Bureau at 701-774-9041.