By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
Classic rock bands Parkway Diner and The British Legends of Rock Show will headline the Savin Rock Festival in Old Grove Park on Friday and Saturday, July 29-30, respectively.
The annual festival, sponsored by the University of New Haven and New England Brewing Co., will showcase the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that made the 20th-century Savin Rock Park “the playground of New England,” Mayor Nancy R. Rossi said.
The festival, which pays homage to the legacy of “the Rock,” is scheduled from 5-10 p.m. July 29 and noon-10 p.m. July 30.
Along with live music, it will feature a “bigger and better” midway of rides and games — and, of course, boatloads of seafood and other mouthwatering dishes.
The midway will include “new and improved” rides, including a Ferris wheel, said George Marenna Jr., who owns Marenna Amusements.
Marenna will offer wristbands for unlimited rides for $30 and a sheet of 21 tickets for $20.
A number of nonprofit organizations will set up informational booths in the 152-year-old Grove, and a fleet of food trucks on nearby Palace Street will serve up burgers, hot dogs, cheesesteaks, fried dough, gyros, lobster rolls, tacos and meatball bombs. Dessert trucks will offer cannoli, ice cream, cupcakes and kettle corn.
The craft fair, a festival tradition, will also take place, spread beneath the park’s oak trees, organizers said.
Resident-only parking for vehicles displaying a valid, affixed beach sticker will be available in the lots on Oak Street and Altschuler Boulevard. Free overflow parking for residents and nonresidents will be available in the grass lot on Oak Street, across from the Surfside public housing complex.
The festival will open at 5 p.m. July 29 with welcoming remarks by Rossi and the national anthem sung by Adeline Mellilo, a 2022 graduate of West Haven High School.
Brian Smith, a former co-host of WPLR’s “Smith and Barber the Morning Show,” will serve as the “ringmaster” of ceremonies for a fifth time.
The Navels will perform the best of Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks at 5:30 p.m., followed by Parkway Diner, playing favorites by Billy Joel and Elton John and hits of the ’70s and ’80s, at 8 p.m.
Day Two will kick off at noon July 30 with the festival’s first Touch-a-Truck event, held on Altschuler Plaza off Captain Thomas Boulevard until 4 p.m.
At noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., members of the West Haven Fire Department, led by Fire Marshal Roger Sicotte, will demonstrate the department’s 35-foot smoke trailer and show children what to do in the event of a fire.
A K-9 demonstration by the Police Department is also planned during the afternoon.
At 3 p.m., West Haven firefighters will demonstrate the Jaws of Life tool by prying open parts of a vehicle to free those trapped inside. Members of the West Shore Fire Department will demonstrate the department’s amphibious rescue boat.
At 4 p.m., Tre Paul, a trio anchored by retired city police Detective Sgt. Paul Raucci on drums, will open the musical lineup by playing a 90-minute set of rock, oldies and singalongs.
Just before the concert, Smith will introduce Elizabeth Shea, an incoming senior at West Haven High, who will sing the national anthem.
Then, at 6 p.m., Echoes of Sinatra will perform a timeless tribute to the one and only Frank Sinatra. The band, fronted by Sinatra tribute artist Steve Kaz, will trace the career and life of Ol’ Blue Eyes through music and storytelling, including swing renditions of the Sinatra songs you know by heart.
“Don’t miss the opportunity to experience this exciting show, featuring classic songs, skilled storytelling and world-class musicianship,” Kaz said.
At 8 p.m., The British Legends of Rock Show will invade the stage and play “a powerful rock ’n’ roll buffet celebrating the two undisputed greatest decades of British rock music: the ’60s and ’70s,” the band said in a statement.
The two-hour show will dig deep into the British music catalog, “from the Animals to Led Zeppelin and everything in between.”
Watch the band’s promotional video on YouTube at https://youtu.be/RJiv2iCqMsc.
If it rains, all bands will perform in the West Haven High auditorium, 1 Circle St.
West Haven’s flagship festival was established in 1982 by the Chamber of Commerce — initially under the direction of Brian M. Stone, David Gesler and Michael Shiner and thereafter by John L. Perrone and his wife, Mary Perrone — to bring organizations, clubs, businesses and families together for a summer festival that celebrates life in one of America’s oldest coastal communities.
From the dawn of the Savin Rock House hotel in 1838, the Rock had long been a resort hub until it was officially incorporated as an amusement park by the Savin Rock Park Co. on Memorial Day 1925, when it opened to 300,000 visitors and 66,000 automobiles in one spectacular day.
For the next four decades, the popular seaside park captured the hearts and imaginations of “Rock rats” of all ages. “The Coney Island of Connecticut” shuttered on Sept. 21, 1966, to pave the way for the Savin Rock Urban Renewal Project.