By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
Local party rock bands Mean Carlene and Shameless will headline the Centennial Savin Rock Festival in Old Grove Park on July 30-31, respectively.
The two-day festival, presented by the City of West Haven Centennial Celebration Committee, is part of a six-month series of free events commemorating the community’s 100th anniversary and its incorporation by the General Assembly as Connecticut’s youngest municipality.
Mayor Nancy R. Rossi, the committee’s honorary chairwoman, said the Centennial Savin Rock Festival will showcase West Haven’s past 100 years and the “sights, sounds, smells and tastes” that made the 20th-century Savin Rock Park “the playground of New England.”
The festival, which pays homage to the legacy of “the Rock,” is set for 5-10 p.m. July 30 and noon-10 p.m. July 31.
Along with live music, it will feature a midway of games and rides — and, of course, boatloads of seafood and other mouthwatering dishes.
Marenna Amusements will offer wristbands for unlimited rides for $25.
A number of nonprofit organizations will set up informational booths in the 151-year-old Grove, and a fleet of food trucks on nearby Palace Street will serve up burgers, hot dogs, cheesesteak, fried dough, gyros, kebabs, and sausage and peppers. Dessert trucks will offer cannoli, cupcakes and ice cream.
The festival will open at 5 p.m. July 30 with welcoming remarks by Rossi and a rendition of the national anthem.
Brian Smith, a former co-host of WPLR’s “Smith and Barber the Morning Show,” will serve as the “ringmaster” of ceremonies for a fourth time.
The Hooch, a Top 40 duo that “combines elements of hip-hop, pop, soul and smooth vocals,” will perform at 6:30 p.m., followed by hometown favorite Mean Carlene at 8 p.m.
Mean Carlene is Rob Hames on bass guitar and vocals, Joe LaDore on acoustic guitar and vocals, Bobby Moran on electric guitar and vocals, and Rich Weber on drums and vocals.
“When West Haven asked Mean Carlene to help celebrate the city, our only question was what time and what portable stage,” the band said in a statement. “The Savin Rock Festival returns this year, and MC will be helping to wish a happy 100th birthday to all things Westie by getting the band back together. Again.
“Come join us under the stars for some fun, a few laughs, and to rekindle what made the ‘last Friday of every month’ so special for so long.”
On July 31, festival organizers will hold a craft fair from noon-7 p.m.
At 3 p.m., members of the West Haven Fire Department will demonstrate the Jaws of Life tool during an extrication by prying open parts of a vehicle to free those trapped inside. Members of the West Shore Fire Department will demonstrate their amphibious rescue boat.
Rubber City, powered by a horn section in the vein of Chicago and Tower of Power, will perform at 4 p.m., followed by local party funk band Covergirl at 6 p.m. and Shameless at 8 p.m.
“Shameless is excited and honored to be closing out this year’s Savin Rock Festival,” the band said in a statement. “The festival has always been a highlight of summer in southern Connecticut. We are thrilled to see it return for the West Haven Centennial Celebration and just as excited to join in on the fun.
“The boys in the band can’t wait to get a little Shameless with West Haven on July 31!”
If it rains, all bands will play in the West Haven High auditorium, 1 Circle St.
The Centennial Savin Rock Festival will join other events observing West Haven’s secession from Orange a century ago. The rural and residential sections of Orange separated in 1921 when the residential part, West Haven, became the state’s youngest town.
The committee’s hospitality table will sell centennial coins, lapel pins and lawn signs at the hospitality table.
Each person who buys a $10 lawn sign will get entered into a raffle for a chance to push a “start button” to help launch this year’s fireworks. The winner and up to three guests will also dine on burgers and hot dogs under the Savin Rock Fireworks Committee’s hospitality tent before and during the display.
The 2021 fireworks, billed as “They Will Be Heard on the 3rd,” will launch off Bradley Point Park at 8 p.m. Sept. 3, with a rain date of Sept. 4.
All merchandise proceeds generated by the centennial committee will offset expenses and support the $50,000 centennial budget approved by the City Council, said committee Chairwoman Beth A. Sabo, the city’s commissioner of human resources.
Local vendor JOD Designs, a veteran-owned screen printing company, will sell centennial T-shirts.
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 Sept. 21, 1966, to pave the way for the Savin Rock Urban Renewal Project.
For a complete list of centennial events, see the schedule at https://www.cityofwesthaven.com/343/Centennial-Events. For centennial merchandise, visit the official online store at https://merchwebstores.com/West-Haven-Centennial/shop/home.
The store, hosted by West Haven vendor West Shore Associates, sells such centennial-branded merchandise as long- and short-sleeved T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, stainless steel tumblers, stemless wine glasses, insulated beverage bottles, ceramic mugs, retro sunglasses, canvas and cotton tote bags, eco-performance face masks, and pigment-dyed twill and mesh trucker caps.
A portion of the vendors’ merchandise proceeds will support the centennial account, Sabo said.