By LISA CAPOBIANCO
When the Mum Festival Committee disbanded in January, the Bristol community grew concerned that one of its historic events would not continue.
But as spring rolled around, a new partnership emerged to re-energize the Mum Festival. Now that Bristol All Heart, the marketing partnership of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce and the city of Bristol, has teamed up with the Bristol Exchange Club, the festival will continue into its 55th year.
The result of this collaboration is the “Mum Fest Squad,” a group of local volunteers that has been planning every detail of the multi-day festival. From children’s activities to vendors and food to live entertainment, the event will feature a variety of attractions for people of all ages on Memorial Boulevard starting Thursday, Sept. 22 through Sunday, Sept. 25.
“People have just stepped forward,” said Bristol Exchange Club President Jack Ferraro. “They all just bring an expertise to the festival. The chemistry is here to have a very successful event.”
“As we progressed throughout the year, it just grew and flourished,” said Karl Tack, one of the festival’s programming chairs. “All of these people work so well together. [The festival] is going to be a lot better than it ever was.”
“I’m glad it’s back,” added Sam Alkas, a long-time volunteer of the Mum Festival who serves as facilities chair.
Ferraro said the partnership has been “outstanding,” especially with Branding and Marketing Manager Mark Walerysiak as festival chair.
“He has delved into everything for us,” said Ferraro. “It would be very difficult without his leadership on this committee to pull together what we’re doing.”
Other members of the squad agreed, including Andy Adams, who serves as the festival’s vendor chair.
“He has great experience too. He did the two successful Pop Up Piazza festivals back in 2011 and 2012,” said Adams.
When the squad took over as the festival organizer, Adams said it re-engineered the event. The 55th Annual Mum Festival will bring back many of its longtime traditions while adding new ones.
Walerysiak said the squad hopes to build upon the festival.
“While it’s a new group… and it’s a new energy, I think it’s going to be a great even,” said Walerysiak, adding that the new group also thanks past volunteers of the festival. “This festival didn’t get to the 55th year without a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, and a lot of passion behind it.”
Rippy Patton, chair of the Miss Mum pageant, said the fact that the festival takes place on the boulevard is an eye opener for everyone who attends.
A special carnival will kick off the festival weekend on the nights of Sept. 22 and 23, before the festival grounds explode on Sept. 24. Some festivities will return with a twist. This year, the Touch-A-Truck exhibit has transformed into “Touch-A-Truck, Trains, Boats and Planes.” This expanded exhibit will allow children and families to explore fire trucks, law enforcement vehicles, bulldozers, agricultural machinery and antique military vehicles.
Live music and entertainment, food trucks, a car show, and dozens of vendors from local businesses, crafters, community organizations and museums also will dominate the boulevard.
“The vendors piece has grown significantly,” said Adams.
Another feature of the festival this year is the addition of a beer and wine tent.
“We’ve added that dimension to attract young millennials,” said Adams.
“We wanted to ensure that we had something for all ages,” added Walerysiak.
Currently the squad is getting ready to announce this year’s Hometown Hero, which has honored many Bristol veterans.
Bob Barnett, a member of Bristol’s Korean War Veterans Association, said looking ahead, Post 2 hopes to branch out its Hometown Hero nominees beyond the veteran community, especially women who have made contributions to the city.
“We feel that it shouldn’t always be a veteran,” said Barnett, a U.S. Army veteran. “It’s time.”
A Hometown Hero breakfast will take place on Sunday, Sept. 25 before the Mum Parade kicks off. Operated by the Bristol Exchange Club for many years, the parade has served as the focal point of the Mum Festival for 55 years. When news broke of the Mum Festival Committee disbanding, the Exchange Club committed to continue the parade even if the festival would not continue.
The squad is excited for the parade, which will feature UCONN’s Jonathan The Husky as its marshal.
“The parade is part of the festival,” said Ferraro, co-chair of the parade.
“It’s all pieces that belong together,” said Sue Berard, who serves as festival treasurer.
After a four-year absence, the Miss Mum pageant will return on Sept. 23 at Bristol Central High School. To date, more than 15 girls are competing in the pageant, said Patton.
“The participation is better than I would ever hoped it to be,” said Patton.
Besides the festival itself, another accomplishment for the squad is the series of events planned leading up to the festival, known as “Mum Season.” One of these events includes the “We Are One” softball tournament on Sept. 17.
Overall Ferraro said the festival is not only for Bristol, but also for the area.
“It draws from more than just the Bristol community,” said Ferraro.