Last year, Green River cancelled its 115-year-old traditional Melon Days Festival in favor of a small, locals-only event to mitigate COVI-19 concerns. The full festival is back this year, with a slew of events and activities and the return of fun favorites like the World’s Largest Watermelon Slice float, a melon-carving contest, and a melon-themed fun run.
The event usually brings 4,000 to 5,000 people to Green River, said event organizer Robin Hunt, which is why they decided to cancel the main festival: imposing COVID-19 restrictions on a crowd that size wasn’t feasible. The city spent the Melon Days budget on creating documentaries on local melon growers and airing them on an outdoor screen for Green River locals.
“We kept it very low-key and small, but we still wanted to have a celebration of melon days past,” said Hunt.
The films feature interviews with farmers sharing insights into the history, climate, and culture of melon-growing in Green River. Segments of those documentaries are available on the event website, melon-days.com, along with information about festival events.
There are a variety of sporting activities. Gather a team and register for the 3-person scramble-style golf tournament on Friday, or the softball tournament on Friday and Saturday. Or sign up for the 5K walk/run Melon Run on Saturday, or the Melon Days Fun Shoot at the Green River Shooting Range after the parade on Saturday.
In prior years, organizers have welcomed a group that led square dancing; that group couldn’t make it this year, so Melon Days is hosting a new dance leader who will teach “wild west barn dancing” on Friday and Saturday nights.
The parade is the star of the festival, featuring a watermelon slice-shaped float. The giant watermelon slice was built in 1960 by members and supporters of the Green River Chamber of Commerce to participate in the Melon Days parade. It was originally also used as a fruit-selling stand.
Vendors offer locally grown watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupes, as well as unusual melon varieties that are hard to find. Hunt said the Israeli Melon is a delicious local gem she’s never seen sold anywhere else.
“On the outside it’s orange and kind of crackled-looking,” she said. “When you open it up, the fruit is white, with an orange tinge in the middle. The flavor is kind of a cross between a cantaloupe and a honeydew–or maybe a Crenshaw.”
Crenshaw is another unusual variety available at Melon Days.
On Saturday evening, Indie-Rock/Americana singer and songwriter Rascal Martinez will give a concert. Native to Nebraska, Martinez has played in Green River once before, at the John Wesley Powell Museum in 2019. Hunt said Martinez is a very interactive performer, and had a lot of fun with the audience at that show.
“It was beautiful and it was fun, and the locals really enjoyed him,” she said. “I’ve gotten requests since then to bring him back.” Martinez was scheduled to play at the 2019 Melon Days before the full-sized event was canceled; Hunt is glad Martinez is able to return for 2021.
Parts of the Melon Days festival fun have already begun. On Sept. 11, Green River hosted the Melon Cruise, a classic car show with a cruise around town and a raffle. Melon-lovers can post photos of their first Green River watermelons of the season to the event’s Facebook page to be entered into a prize drawing, and organizers are taking orders for festival tee shirts. Photos of melon-carvings are being accepted into the carving contest now. Send your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Carvings must be made from local melons!)
The Melon Days festival is a treasured part of the town’s character. Even though crops like hay, alfalfa, corn, and sorghum are bigger players in Green River agriculture, melons are the most iconic. Hunt speculates that’s because they’re so delicious; or perhaps because they’re so much work to grow; or maybe because the Green River climate is so well-suited to produce sweet, flavorful melons. The Melon Days Festival is a chance to experience why the fruits are so beloved.
What: Green River Melon Days Festival
Where: Various locations in Green River, Utah
When: Friday, Sept. 17 and Saturday, Sept. 18
Cost: Prices for events and activities vary