How The Gilroy Garlic Festival Got Canceled

The Gilroy Garlic Festival got canceled after operating for 42 years. With the 2019 shooting, COVID-19, and insurance costs, the three-day event became history. Smaller events like the golf tournament, concert, and farmer’s table are still on for 2022. The garlic powder hadn’t settled on that announcement when another announcement got made. The Stockton Garlic Festival will be at the San Joaquin fairgrounds in mid-August. Will a competing garlic festival cancel the cancellation of the Gilroy Garlic Festival?

The Gilroy Garlic Festival

Gilroy, CA, located 30 miles south of Silicon Valley, is the Garlic Capitol of the World. A title that may no longer be true today. The farms that weren’t paved over for strip malls and housing are no longer growing garlics. The aroma of garlic that still hangs over the town on hot afternoons come from Christopher Ranch. A commercial garlic producer that peels, grates, and roasts tons of garlic every year.

The Gilroy Garlic Festival had 80,000 to 100,000 visitors for three days of food and entertainment. The Gilroy Garlic Festival Association raised $12-million US for local charities since 1979. The festival was a major win for everyone in involved and the city of Gilroy.

Three events in recent years led up to the cancelation of the three-day event.

The 2019 Shooting

The 2019 Gilroy Garlic Festival was the last three-day event before COVID-19. I was there on Saturday to record a pair of videos featuring Chef Tom Colicchio from Top Chef. I posted my videos on Sunday morning. My Twitter feed blew up later that afternoon, as the shooting got underway.

The best coverage of the shooting came from people at the festival uploading videos to Twitter. With everyone evacuating Christmas Park at the same time, it created a huge traffic jam on the 101. The news media didn’t arrive until well after dark to report on what Twitter users had already known for hours.

I’ve read a lot of tweets at the time that the rent-a-cops at the gates didn’t stop the shooter. Two problems with that assumption. The rent-a-cops were there to prevent gang bangers and idiots from crashing the gates. The shooter walked up a dry creek bed to cut through the wired fence on the backside of the festival. If the shooter had entered through the gates, the rent-a-cops would have stopped him cold.

Three people killed and 17 people wounded from 39 rounds fired from an AK-47 assault rifle. Police officers inside the park wounded the suspect within minutes of the first shots. The medical examiner concluded that the suspected died from a self-inflicted gunshot.

The shooting and the lawsuit that followed cast a long shadow over the future of the festival.


The 2020 Gilroy Garlic Festival got canceled because of the COVID-19 shutdown. Since the festival was a massive undertaking, it couldn’t be rescheduled. I bought my tickets in February and got an automatic refund two months later.

The festival came back with a series of smaller events for 2021. Golf tournament, concert, farmer’s table at a winery, and drive-thru food pickup. The first three events I didn’t care about. Driving 60 miles roundtrip for takeout didn’t appeal to me. This year’s drive-thru hasn’t been announced yet. With today’s gas prices, you must be a hardcore foodie for expensive takeout.

Smaller events cannot replace the fundraising power of a three-day event that draws up  to 100,000 people.

Insurance Costs

The cancelation of the 2022 Gilroy Garlic Festival wasn’t blamed on the shooting or COVID-19. San Jose Spotlight broke down the numbers in an article that came out last week. The insurance costs of hosting the event on city property became prohibitive.

  • For 2019, $6 million US in coverage cost $62,000 US in premiums.
  • For 2020, $6 million US in coverage cost $98,000 US in premiums.
  • For 2022, $10 million US in coverage cost from $150,000 US to $200,000 US in premiums.

You may notice that the 2021 numbers weren’t listed. Everyone thought that the smaller events replaced the three-day event because of COVID-19 last year. According to the article, insurance—not COVID-19—cancelled the three-day event last year.

Because of the lawsuit from the shooting, underwriters weren’t providing any coverage at any price.

The Stockton Garlic Festival

Is a festival still a festival with smaller events scheduled over the summer months? Some would argue no. If Gilroy wasn’t offering a three-day garlic festival, someone else might step up to the task. That took only a week to happen.

A Stockton promoter announced the Stockton Garlic Festival at the San Joaquin Fairgrounds. Stockton, CA, is located 90 miles northwest of Silicon Valley. The farms there grow garlic and has a commercial garlic producer called The Garlic Company. The mid-August dates and other details are still unconfirmed.

The Gilroy Garlic Festival Association responded with their own announcement. The Stockton Garlic Festival was NOT a successor event for the Gilroy Garlic Festival. The promoter has never contacted them about working together. And all but accused the promoter of stealing their festival.

Will a competing garlic festival cancel the cancelation of the Gilroy Garlic Festival? Probably not.

The insurance cost is still a huge financial burden for the festival. Even if a Silicon Valley billionaire covered the premiums, parking will still be a bigger problem.

  • When I attended in 2005, parking was in a field next door and a short walk to the park.
  • When I attended in 2019, parking was in a field three miles away and a charter bus ride to the park.

Housing developments replaced all the nearby empty fields at and around Christmas Park. Without convenient parking for 100,000 people in three days, hosting the big event is problematic.

Without the annual three-day festival, Gilroy will no longer be the Garlic Capitol of the World.

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