Woonsocket's 35th Autumnfest rolls out this weekend

Woonsocket's 35th Autumnfest rolls out this weekend

WOONSOCKET - It's the city's original block party and it has endured.

For the 35th year, the annual Autumnfest celebration will take place this weekend in World War II Veterans Memorial State Park.

"People will be coming in from all over to be with family and friends," said Tim Paul steering committee chairman. "We believe that we are the biggest free festival in the Northeast. One of the things that makes us special is that there is no admission and no charge for parking."

Autumnfest began 35 years ago in an attempt to showcase the good things and energetic spirit of Woonsocket. The event has a massive food court, arts and crafts, a kids play and entertainment area, free entertainment on a stage in the center of World War II Veterans Memorial State Park, special events, a beer garden and an amusement park midway.

"Thousands of people fill the park every year for Autumnfest and enjoy themselves," said Paul. "We have something for every age group."

While the steering committee relies on donations, midway fees, food booth payments and fund-raising activities to raise enough money to put on the festival, which costs in the vicinity of $60,000, the festival is operated by volunteers with the support of civic organizations.

"While the steering committee only tries to perpetuate itself and does not make money, Autumnfest keeps giving to the community all year long," said Paul. "There are numerous civic groups, like the Rotary Club, Lions Club, CYO and parishes that use Autumnfest as their primary fund-raiser for the year, and then they use that money for various community projects."

Autumnfest will officially open on Saturday at 10 a.m., when elected officials and other dignitaries gather on the center stage to declare the festival open during brief ceremonies. Immediately following, the entire park will be bustling with activity as entertainment, the midway, food court and beer garden all kick into high gear.

Autumnfest, as usual, will have three signature events. The first is the entertainment headliner and this year, it will be a Doo Wop show featuring the Legendary Teenagers, The Chiffons and Dicky Doo and the Don'ts with Gerry Granahan.

"It's going to be a great show with three headliner bands in one," said Paul. "All three have had huge single hits and people will be hearing a non-stop stream of music they remember and loved as kids."

The second signature event is the annual aerial fireworks display which takes place on Sunday night. The display is shot from a lot on East School Street across from World War II Veterans Memorial Park and can be clearly seen for miles.

This year, in observance of the 35th anniversary, the steering committee has increased its fireworks budget.

"It will be a non-stop show for at least a half-hour," said Paul. "We always have one of the finest fireworks displays in Rhode Island, and this year, it will be even more spectacular than ever."

The third signature event is the annual parade that will step off from Diamond Hill Plaza on Diamond Hill Road and travel two miles along Diamond Hill Road and then to Social Street, where it will pass a reviewing stand at the Social Street entrance to the park and disband a short distance up Social Street.

This year's line of march will have about 2,500 participants, including numerous bands and other musical units, 18 floats, special events, scouting and civic organizations, sports organizations, police and fire personnel and veteran groups among others.

"The major reason that we are able to keep this festival going year after year is the tremendous support that we receive from the local business community," said Paul. "Small businesses and large realize the importance of this event and continually support us because they believe in what we do and they believe in Woonsocket."

The general community has also been supportive, attending fund-raising events and even by purchasing an Autumnfest button for a dollar.

"It's a keepsake, and even though it's only a buck, if you sell enough of them, it makes a significant difference," said Paul.

The committee has worked hard through the years to keep the festival family-orientated, and that theme will thread through the celebration once again.

"People can take their little ones to the Kidsfest area, the teens have the midway, the adults and seniors have the beer garden, and everyone can enjoy the entertainment and food," said Paul. "Everything that we feature attracts someone different, and there's something for everyone."

Making Autumnfest even more attractive for families this year, organizers have decided to continue a smoke-free policy in the food court, Kidsfest and in front of the main stage, said Paul.