Barre Partnership: Looking toward the Heritage Festival
The snow from this year’s long winter is almost gone and signs of spring are starting to appear. That means that summer is right around the corner, and summer brings with it Barre’s signature event, the Barre Heritage Festival. The festival, presented by The Barre Partnership, has in recent years consistently welcomed more than 15,000 community members and visitors from around the region to join us in celebrating the Barre area’s community, culture, history and the arts.
The Barre Heritage Festival’s roots go back to 1970 with an event at Thunder Road featuring an historical pageant commemorating Barre’s history performed by a cast of several hundred local citizens of all ages. The nine-day event was produced by committees of local volunteers, including the Ladies Sunbonnets & Dresses Committee and the Brothers of the Brush. It featured music and food from around the world, downtown window displays by each of Barre’s ethnic groups, stories and games for children, outdoor cafes, a parade and much more.
The first actual festival as we know it today, the Barre Ethnic Heritage Festival in 1978, was considered a huge success, drawing 5,000 people to the Granite City to celebrate the rich history of the many ethnic groups who settled in Barre. The festival fostered a renewed interest in Barre’s world-famous granite industry that had attracted granite workers from across Europe to settle here. It was a home-grown event that included music and dance performances and the food of the Scottish, Irish, Italian, French Canadian, Spanish and Middle Eastern communities. There was a parade with music by the St Andrew’s Society Scottish Bagpipes and Drums, floats showcasing the heritage of Barre’s ethnic groups, children on decorated bicycles, and the gigantic birds of Bread and Puppet Theater with founder Peter Schumann as Uncle Sam on his mile-high stilts.
By 1982, the festival reached its peak, when a crowd of 30,000 came to Barre to enjoy the festival. Organized by 19 ethnic committees, there were 21 window displays, 11 bands in the parade, and dozens of performances at the gazebo in City Hall Park and in Depot Square, plus an Italian tent, the Quartier Francais, the German bierstube with music by the Schnicklefritz Band, and the Polish “Karchma” on West Street where the Victor Krzanowski Polish Orchestra entertained. The Festival was held jointly with perennial summertime events such as the Barre Rotary Club Breakfast, the Paletteers Art Show in City Hall Park, the Friends of the Aldrich Library Book Sale and exhibit of sculpture by Frank Gaylord, the Congregational Church Strawberry Festival, the Barre Jaycees games in City Hall Park and Soap Box Derby.
In recent years and under the leadership of Mollie Lannen, the event has taken on a fresh flavor of its own. The past few summers have brought forth a renewed interest and pride in the community’s unique cultural history and heritage, and with it, a new name for its signature event: The Barre Heritage Festival.
This year’s festival kicks off on Wednesday, July 23, with a concert in Currier Park, part of the Summer Concerts in Currier Park series, and an installment of the Authors at the Aldrich series and the opening of the Paletteers Art Show at the Aldrich Public Library.
On Thursday evening, July 24, the Old Labor Hall will host “La Soirée Sucrée — Sweet Evening” in honor of the late Chet Briggs who was instrumental in the establishment of the Barre Ethnic Heritage Festival. The benefit for the Barre Heritage Festival and the Old Labor Hall will feature French-Canadian fiddling and dancing and a French dessert competition. And up at Thunder Road The Times Argus will be sponsoring The Times Argus Mid-Season Championship.
Friday evening, July 25, the Barre Ethnic Heritage Food Tent, presented by the Granite City Grocery, will present a smorgasbord of ethnic cuisine on the lawn of the Aldrich Public Library. Across the street in City Hall Park the Festival Main Stage will feature local and regional performers from a variety of genres.
Saturday’s festivities will begin in the morning with the annual Rotary Breakfast and Library Book Sale on the lawn of the Aldrich Public Library, and a classic car show and Lions Club Tow Down on Elm Street. Throughout the day visitors can enjoy a variety of food and other vendors, the Kid’s Zone for the little ones, street performers, a Fiddlers Contest, exhibits at Studio Place Arts, the second annual bathtub race, and the Annual Heritage Festival Parade. The day-long celebration ends with a spectacular fireworks display just up from City Hall Park.
An exciting new addition to this year’s Festival will be the Chet Briggs Heritage Stage. Sue Higby of Studio Place Arts, Mark Hudson of the Vermont Historical Society and Karen Lane of Aldrich Public Library are donating their time and expertise to develop the Heritage Stage. Free live music and performances will include Italian, Celtic, Folk, Scottish and more.
The Barre Heritage Festival is a huge but rewarding undertaking that depends on individual and business donations and sponsorships. It is also highly dependent on local volunteers to do everything from serving on a planning committee to reaching out to potential sponsors to putting up posters.
For information on sponsorship and vendor opportunities and applications, visit the festival website at www.barreheritagefestival.org, or email the organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can be mailed to Barre Heritage Festival, P.O. Box 554, Barre, VT 05641.
Dan Jones is executive director of The Barre Partnership.
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