It’s hard to imagine Jeep without Toledo, where the military-inspired vehicles have been rolling off production lines since their debut in 1941. Harder to imagine still? Toledo without Jeep.
“If you talk to your neighbors, everybody seems to know someone who worked there at one time,” said Jerry Huber, who, as a retired plant manager, counts himself among that number. “Or they worked for one of the other companies that are big suppliers, like Dana.”
What: Toledo Jeep Fest
When: Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Where: Downtown Toledo, multiple venues; Monroe Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram Superstore, 15160 S. Dixie Hwy., Monroe on Friday
Toledoans celebrate Jeep — and vice versa — this weekend at Toledo Jeep Fest, a free three-day celebration of company and community that’s expected to take over downtown streets with more than 1,000 stock and specialized vehicles. It runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The festival leans into the momentum that’s been building since 2016, when a half-day celebration tied to the brand’s 75th anniversary drew an overwhelming crowd of some 40,000 local and out-of-state enthusiasts.
Organizers expect to significantly top that turnout this year. Event spokesman Whitney Rofkar put a crowd projection at 60,000.
Among the highlights of the weekend festival are an off-road course, a parade, vehicle show, and, on Sunday, a 4-mile run and 1-mile walk hosted by Run Toledo. Vendors, children’s activities, and live entertainment on three downtown stages round out the festivities.
Toledo Jeep Fest kicks off with a free welcome party at between 1 and 6 p.m. Friday at Monroe Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram Superstore, 15160 S. Dixie Hwy., Monroe. The dealership is opening its 18-obstacle off-road course to the public during the party, inviting Jeepers to try their hands at navigating rollers, rocks, and ditches.
Attendees can drive their own Jeeps or ride along with a dealership employee. Drivers must be 18 or older and have a valid license
Then the party moves to Promenade Park, 400 Water St., where the ProMedica Summer Concert Series welcomes KC and the Sunshine Band, with special guest Oliver Hazard, to the outdoor riverfront stage beginning at 6:15 p.m. The band is known for its disco staples “Get Down Tonight,” “That’s The Way (I Like It),” and “Shake Your Booty” during the 1970s.
Tickets, $10, are available at the door or in advance at promenadeconcerts.com.
In a recent interview with The Blade, Harry Wayne Casey, also known as the frontman and founder of KC and the Sunshine Band, said the emotional experience the band’s music brings out in people is the reason the group has lasted for more than 40 years.
“Music is the soundtrack of all of our lives and to go and see it live solidifies that part of our life and that part that brings happiness to us,” he said. “I think music is one of those things that helps us all celebrate our happiness.”
Saturday brings an invasion of Jeeps: More than 1,000 of them — ranging from souped up to soccer mom and representing at least 27 states, as well as Canada and Mexico — roll down Summit and Jackson streets in in a parade beginning at 11 a.m.
Those Jeeps will then line 20 downtown blocks after the parade, continuing the festivities with an outdoor vehicle show through 6 p.m. At the same time, as well as on Sunday between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., visitors can check out historic, futuristic, and other notable models in the SeaGate Convention Centre, 401 Jefferson Ave.
Expect everything from concept vehicles to the military prototypes that laid the groundwork for today’s civilian models, said Huber, who is chairman of the event’s steering committee. Enthusiasts can also check out the brand’s history with trucks, a particularly relevant look-back as they await the release in 2019 of a Jeep Wrangler-based pickup.
A Vendor Midway on St. Clair Street, Kids’ Zones at Imagination Station, Fifth Third Field and Hensville and live entertainment, food trucks, and a beer garden at Promenade Park run the same times as the car shows. For a full entertainment lineup, go to toledojeepfest.com.
A raffle featuring a 24-month lease for a 2018 Jeep Wrangler, among other prizes, is set for 4:30 p.m. Saturday, a dueling pianos show at Hensville at 8 p.m. Saturday and the walk and run at 8:30 a.m. Sunday. For more information on the latter, or to register for $20 or $40, go to bit.ly/2M0cc3P.
Mr. Huber said circumstances didn’t lend themselves to a celebration in 2017, when, in part, the local plant was in the midst of shifting production of the Jeep Cherokee out of state. This year, though, the community — both Jeep and Toledo — is positioned for a party.
“This was such a cool thing in 2016 that we want to do it again,” he said.
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