Annual festival celebrates its 25th year
By Alyssa Mammano
The talk of the town, Harborfest, is turning back time for its 25th anniversary with a “Back to the Future” theme coinciding with the bicentennial of the War of 1812.
Everyone has heard talk of whom and what is happening at this year’s Harborfest, from headline performer Kenny Loggins to a brand new car give-away.
It’s time, once again, to welcome thousands of people into the streets of Oswego for a fun-filled four-day weekend.
This summer’s Harborfest will July 26-29, and will feature some significant changes while noting its 25-year milestone.
Featured will be a new promotional give-away of a 2012 Dodge Challenger, thanks to Longley Dodge in Fulton and The Palladium-Times in Oswego.
Tickets are available for $5. A maximum of 10,000 tickets will be sold and Harborfest public relations coordinator Steve Pryor said tickets sales are strong.
“Things that are new to Harborfest, for the first time in 25 years, will be a live television broadcast. WSYR Channel 9 in Syracuse is doing a Bridge Street program live from Breitbeck Park on Friday morning [July 27],” Pryor said. “We’re also looking at hosting a live radio call-in program on the airwaves of WSEN in Baldwinsville. So we’re looking to have live television and live radio as new touches to help celebrate the 25th anniversary this year.”
Former executive director Steve Fulton is also back on board this year, heading up the show after over a decade of contributing as a volunteer since his retirement.
“I’ve stayed with Harborfest as a volunteer. I felt very involved with it and they had a short-term need for someone. So we came together and made an agreement. I enjoy the job. I enjoy the people. I enjoy the volunteers,” Fulton said. “It’s one of those jobs that was a very easy fit. It’s like putting on an old shoe.”
Fulton said in conjunction with the bicentennial of the War of 1812, four tall ships are scheduled to enter the harbor in front of Fort Ontario and exchange mock gunfire with the fort.
“The sailing vessels will be coming into the harbor and turn in front of the fort,” Fulton said. “That is a bit of history. In the days of sail in the 1800s, when a Navy ship would come into a port, they would fire a salute. The salute would be all of their cannons, and that would prove to the port that they didn’t have anything more in their guns, and they were now a peaceful ship. We’ll recreate that as every ship enters the harbor.”
The tall ships will also be open for the public to visit free of charge on Saturday and Sunday mornings of Harborfest. The battles with the fort will occur on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Also to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Harborfest is what may be the biggest headliner Harborfest has ever seen, Kenny Loggins.
Loggins is famous for his 1980’s movie soundtracks, “I’m Alright” from “Caddyshack,” “Footloose” from “Footloose,” “Danger Zone” from “Top Gun” and “Nobody’s Fool” from “Caddyshack II.”
He will take the stage on CENG Friday Night at 7:30 with his band, Blue Sky Riders, and then will follow solo to close out the show.
Harborfest will also feature four tribute bands: Changes in Latitudes (Jimmy Buffett); BIG SHOT (Billy Joel); Separate Ways The Band (Journey); and Big Eyed Phish (Dave Matthews).
Changes in Latitude will take the stage to kick off Budweiser Thursday Night, followed by BIG SHOT. For the first time, there will also be a fireworks finale at Brietbeck Park following the entertainment that night.
Big Eyed Phish and Separate Ways The Band will be performing on Entergy Saturday Night.
Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen said he is excited to share his beautiful city with traveling tourists again this year. “We have a remarkable stretch of land on the lake, and we like to show it off once a year,” he said. “It goes back to what the history of Oswego has always been about: an open community from the Underground Railroad, to Save Haven, to Harborfest.”
Gillen describes Harborfest as Oswego’s “Christmas.” He said it is something Oswego residents look forward to getting up for once a year during the summer. “This is a free concert that captures the sense of unity and joy and brotherhood, and it’s a lot of fun,” Gillen said.
Through his experiences of Harborfest throughout the years, Gillen has come to appreciate how it has evolved over the years.
“I went to the very first one 25 years ago and it was just a tall ship that came in and an ice cream stand,” he said. “I’ve seen it evolve and change. I remember the ‘big splash’ ones when it was like Woodstock, and then people started saying ‘OK, it’s too big now, we need to re-calibrate it.’ So we’ve been tweaking it to the point now where we want the right blend of family, fun, education, history and culture. I think we’re getting pretty close to the point of perfecting this thing.”
Fulton said, “The goal is to have a wonderful, family oriented festival, and to maintain the long-held concept that it’s a free festival.” Pryor, who also serves as sponsorship coordinator, said, “This is virtually a 99 percent admission-free festival. The only way that happens—the 72 different entertainers admission-free—is great sponsor support that the festival has enjoyed over all 25 years.”
As for the future, 25 years is in the books, and Harborfest officials are now looking forward to the next 25.
Fulton said, “But for the future, the War of 1812 lasted three years, so we’ve got two more years to go.” He also added that there will be a surprise for Harborfest-goers to look forward to this year, but it will be kept under the hat until then.