By Paul Tennant
NORTH ANDOVER — Thousands of people are expected to flock to the Common on May 19 for the 41st annual Sheep Shearing Festival.
Last year, close to 7,000 people visited North Andover to see the sheep herded and shorn, according to Jeffrey Coco, chairman of the Festival Committee, which organizes this event.
Of course, there's a lot more to the Sheep Shearing Festival than docile, woolly beasts. The gathering always attracts a host of crafters and food vendors.
This year, the Sheep Shearing Festival will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Coco and other Festival Committee members, who met last night to work out details for the event, strongly urge people NOT to try parking near the Common, where parts of the streets will be closed.
Those who attend the festival can park their cars without charge either at North Andover Middle School, at the corner of Route 125 and Main Street; or Franklin School off Andover Street.
"There will be a free shuttle service," Coco pointed out, with buses running constantly between the schools and the Common throughout the duration of the festival.
Last year, the introduction of Cowpie Bingo, in which a well-fed cow saunters among a bunch of squares painted on the Common before leaving a load on one of them, proved to be a tremendous success, according to festival organizers.
Participants in this activity buy a square – or squares. If Madam Cow deposits a present on your square, you win a pile of money.
E.J. Foulds, the coordinator of Cowpie Bingo, has raised the bovine bar of expectations for this year's version. Last year, a square sold for $5. The price will be $10 this year, said Foulds, who hopes to double the profit.
There will be a total of 625 squares up for grabs on the Common. They will be sold at various local locations. The squares sold out last year and Foulds said he expects to repeat that feat this year.
When Selectman Richard Vaillancourt announced at Monday night's meeting of his board that Cowpie Bingo will be featured again, many people voiced their approval.
Coco said he expects there will be a dozen or more sheep at this year's festival. Andy Rice, of Hoggetts Farm, Brattleboro, Vt., will once again provide his shearing skills while David Kennard, of Wellscraft Farm in New Hampshire, will offer his herding acumen.
When the sheep arrive on the Common, Kennard, with the able assistance of his border collies, corrals them into pens. There will be alternating demonstrations of shearing and herding throughout the festival, Coco said.
The committee is seeking crafters for the Sheep Shearing Festival. For more information, call Joan at 978-685-5320, or Jeff at 978-682-5212.