News Column

West Haven's Savin Rock Festival opens Thursday at 5 p.m.

July 24, 2014

By Mark Zaretsky, New Haven Register, Conn.

July 24--WEST HAVEN -- It's not just about the return, even if just for the weekend, of the carnival rides -- or the sausage and peppers or the split hot dogs or the fried dough.

It's not just about the live music or the politicians pressing the flesh or the time spent on a blanket or in some lawn chairs with your family or old friends.

It's not even just about the gentle, ocean breezes or laughter and love and sweet memories of childhood amid the rarefied air of midsummer.

It's about all of that -- and keeping alive the spirit of the old Savin Rock amusement park decades after the park itself is gone -- in a collective celebration that is West Haven's biggest community event of the year.

The 33rd annual Savin Rock Festival starts Thursday and will continue all weekend in Old Grove Park, down by the beach where The Rock once stood.

Don't worry -- you'll find it!

For festival co-chairwoman Natalie DeRosa, who shares this year's chairmanship with Tracy Morrissey and mayoral executive assistant John Lewis, and other members of the Savin Rock Festival Committee, each year represents a chance to re-create the spirit of The Rock anew.

But for DeRosa, whose father and grandfather, Joseph and "Tony" Guiliano, owned the old Grand Carousel and other rides, it's even more than that.

For her, as for many of those who come to the fest, it's a tie to her past.

"The festival means to me that I'm part of the history" of what her father and grandfather helped create, DeRosa, who has served on the Savin Rock Festival Committee for 28 years, said earlier this week.

"I feel very comfortable here, like my grandfather and father are part of the festival," said DeRosa, youngest of three sisters. Seeing how wonderful the festival is each year, "I feel like people never forgot about my father and my grandfather."

Looking around the crowd, "It's such a wonderful feeling to see the smiles on their faces," she said. "They're having such a good time ... They are wonderful people that come down here and they really love that festival ... They look forward to it."

If you're new to the area or just crawled out from, well ... a rock, Savin Rock was southern New England's premier seaside playground from the opening of the Savin Rock House hotel in 1837 until the largest part of it closed on Sept. 21, 1966, to pave the way for the Savin Rock Urban Renewal Project.

It was officially incorporated as an amusement park by the Savin Rock Park Co. on Memorial Day 1925, when it was host to 300,000 visitors and 66,000 automobiles in one day.

For the next four decades, the famed seaside park captured the hearts of "Rock rats" of all ages.

The festival, a four-day event organized each year by the Savin Rock Festival Committee, offers a midway, albeit temporary, of games, food, rides and entertainment.

It will kick off at 5 p.m. Thursday with a ceremony featuring opening remarks from Mayor Ed O'Brien and the national anthem sung by Caitlin Morrissey.

The event is sponsored by the University of New Haven and will run from 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Thursday and Friday and noon-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Marenna Amusements will offer a family pack of 24 tickets Thursday and Friday for $20 and bracelets for unlimited rides Saturday and Sunday for $25.

For the first day's entertainment, contemporary jazz group Airborne will perform at 5:10 p.m., followed by Beatles cover band Fools on the Hill at 7 p.m.

On Friday, The Nu Groove Band will play rhythm and blues hits at 5 p.m., followed by Jimmy Buffett tribute group Changes in Latitude at 7 p.m.

A number of civic and fraternal organizations and nonprofit groups will have informational booths set up, and the food court will feature a row of area vendors serving the fare -- fried seafood, split hot dogs and frozen custard, among other treats -- that made Savin Rock famous as "Connecticut's Playground."

On Saturday, rock band Tears Fall Down will go on at 1 p.m., followed by New Haven-based blues band The Cobalt Rhythm Kings -- yes, that's my band -- with special guest Paul Gabriel at 2 p.m., Jimmy D. Productions presents Jim Donegan, Russ Aldrich and Cindy Hotchkiss at 3 p.m., Rubber City at 4 p.m. and Funk That at 6 p.m.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, festival headliner Motown Revue will perform R&B classics from the catalog of artists that made Detroit'sMotown Records a household name in the 1960s.

If it rains, Changes in Latitude and Magic of Motown will play in the West Haven High School auditorium, 1 McDonough Plaza.

On Sunday, Infinity will perform at 2 p.m., followed by The Mike and Mike Band at 3 p.m. and The Peter Lucibelli Band at 4 p.m.

The festival will close with concerts by The Asberry Boys -- four brothers who harmonized their way into viewers' hearts on the 2008 season of "America's Got Talent" -- at 6 p.m. and The Navels, playing a set of Stevie Nicks covers, at 8 p.m.

The West Haven High School Band Parents will hold a craft fair from noon-8 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

There also will be the six-person Mark Romano Memorial Co-ed Beach Volleyball Tournament, run by the Park and Recreation Department, at Sea Bluff Beach Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

This year's double-elimination tournament fees will be donated to 9-year-old Angelic Barreiro. Angelic and her family will be traveling to a special treatment center in Florida for intensive therapy to help increase her mobility due to cerebral palsy.

And there will be beach art and architecture featuring members of the American Institute of Architects buildings on the beach on Saturday morning, said Lewis.

"It's nice to have something down on the beach that's different" and the exhibition "is part of the biggest event of the summer for West Haven," he said. "You have a good draw -- people from everywhere come."

The Junior Woman's Club will accept votes for its Little Savin Rock contest in the event's final two days until an hour before winners are announced.

To help with expenses, the Savin Rock Festival Committee will sell T-shirts in the hospitality tent.

"This exceptional group of men and women has worked tirelessly to make this event a faithful celebration of Savin Rock's legacy, which will be both enjoyable and memorable," O'Brien said of the organizers.

"We're very excited," said Morrissey, a Democratic City Council member representing the 8th District. "We're praying for good weather.

Morrissey said she likes the festival because, "It gives everybody the opportunity to go down and it's very family oriented ... They've got rides ... good food, good music."

The Savin Rock Festival was established in 1982 by the West Haven Chamber of Commerce, under the direction of the late John and Mary Perrone, to bring organizations, clubs, businesses and residents together.

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(c)2014 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)

Visit the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.) at www.nhregister.com

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Source: New Haven Register (CT)


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