Whiskey Rebellion Festival

Submitted photo

A tax collector, played by Kevin Hough, is tarred by a rebel farmer, played by Andrew Armstrong, and feathered by Joseph Crispin, played by Joe Pisczor, during the street theater of the Whiskey Rebellion Festival in 2018.

In the decade the Whiskey Rebellion Festival has been happening, there’s one question that, running away, is the most commonly asked: When will the tarring and feathering take place?

The answer? Saturday at 5 p.m.

The tarring and feathering of some soul playing the role of a luckless tax collector in Pennsylvania’s maiden days is a highlight of the Whiskey Rebellion Festival, which is coming to downtown Washington and Washington Park starting Thursday. Marking its 10th anniversary this year, the festival is the marquee attraction on the city’s annual calendar of events and, according to festival co-chair Tripp Kline, a potent economic development tool.

“The history of the Whiskey Rebellion makes it a unique event,” Kline explained, pointing out that there aren’t many other festivals that can boast a tarring and feathering. Along with it being its 10th anniversary, this year’s festival also marks the 225th anniversary of the end of the Whiskey Rebellion, when cantankerous farmers in Western Pennsylvania fiercely opposed a tax on distilled spirits imposed by the federal government to pay off $54 million in debt the newly formed United States ran up during the Revolutionary War (that would be $804 million in today’s dollars). Washington was an epicenter of agitation, with the city’s David Bradford helping to lead the insurrection.

The Whiskey Rebellion Festival is happening at the same time as the launch of the Whiskey Rebellion Trail, a string of distilleries and sites stretching from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. For the first time, this year’s festival will have what’s been dubbed a Rebellion Distillery Tasting Tour, where visitors with tickets will be able to sample whiskey from 16 Pennsylvania distillers. It’s set for Saturday from noon to 4 p.m., and tickets are $25 until Friday at noon; after that, the price goes up to $30. All participants must be aged 21 or older, and proceeds will benefit the Bradford House Historical Association.

The opening ceremony for the festival is due to start at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. A musket volley and performance of patriotic music will follow. Plenty of other music will be on tap throughout the duration of the festival, including performances by Pittsburgh’s Boilermaker Jazz Band, Seattle singer-songwriters Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons, and Jake Blount, a Maryland-based banjo player, fiddler and scholar of old-time music.

This year, the festival has also been selling its own specialty rye whiskey blend. Five-hundred bottles were produced, and fewer than 100 are now left, Kline said.

Arts, crafts and food vendors will also be on hand throughout the weekend.

Information is available at whiskeyrebellionfestival.com.

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