They prepared for rain at the Fresno Basque Club festival. But in the end, the weather was great — and so was the party.
Hundreds of people descended on the Campos Brothers Farm in Caruthers, Calif. for the festival, which was held on Saturday May 1. The picnic was originally scheduled for the Borba Ranch in Madera. But a rainstorm earlier in the week worried organizers, who decided to relocate it to a large warehouse on the Campos’ almond ranch property.
“Hindsight is 20-20,” club president Jeff Yribarren said with a smile as sunshine and blue skies greeted the 800 or so people who came to the ranch for the 33rd annual event. “We had to decide on Tuesday, and it didn’t look good,” he said of the weather.
This wasn’t the first time the festival has been held at the Campos farm. The timing of the Fresno picnic early in the Basque festival season – it’s always the first Saturday in May – means rain is always a possibility.
The well-kept almond warehouse had been equipped with a stage and dozens of tables. Co-owners Tony and Juliet Campos circulated among the crowd, making sure everyone was comfortable and had whatever they needed.
Father Michael Lastiri celebrated the mass in Basque. The Kern County Basque Club klika of trumpets and drums and costumed dancers led the way as the priest entered the huge building. A large group of young dancers from the Fresno club, accompanied by accordionist Manuela Etchechury, performed after the mass.
The club served 800 lunches of barbecue lamb, lamb stew and beans – a bigger crowd than last year. A pile of about 80 homemade gateaux Basques (Basque cake) sold out quickly.
Josephine Arriet, 93, a longtime member of the club, was happy to see so many people at the festival. She has represented Fresno since 1982 as a delegate to the North American Basque Organizations, or NABO, a federation of Basque clubs across the country, and finally left the volunteer job this year.
“I made many new friends,” said Arriet about her many years in NABO. “I saw a lot of this wonderful country,” she noted, because of traveling to meetings in different Basque communities. When she first joined, most of the clubs worked in isolation, she recalled, but as the years passed, NABO promoted greater communication between the clubs and developed programs that brought Basques together.
The afternoon dance performance was an example of clubs working together. Fresno’s older dance group is small – only four girls – so Chino’s Gauden Bat dancers, plus a few teenage boys from Bakersfield, put on the afternoon show.
In the early evening, Jean Flesher of Salt Lake City, Utah, played his accordion, accompanied by J.P. Etchechury of Fresno on drums, livening the dance crowd. Dancers joined in fandangos and other traditional Basque dances, along with waltzes and paso dobles.
Most of the crowd was gone by 9 p.m., but more celebrating followed on Sunday, when Father Lastiri celebrated 25 years as an ordained priest, with a mass at a local church. The Elgarrekin choir from San Francisco performed for the event. The mass was followed by a celebration at the Santa Fe restaurant in Fresno, where a crowd of about 200 people enjoyed a hearty Basque meal.