Centennial Savin Rock Festival marks 100 years of ‘the Rock’

WEST HAVEN, Aug. 3, 2021 — Amid a weekend of fabulous weather and crowds 5,000 strong, the Centennial Savin Rock Festival paid homage to the enduring legacy of “the Rock” while marking West Haven’s 100th anniversary.

The two-day festival, held by the City of West Haven Centennial Celebration Committee in historic Old Grove Park, was part of a six-month series of free events commemorating the community’s 1921 birth and its incorporation by the General Assembly as Connecticut’s youngest municipality.

The shoreline festival showcased West Haven’s past 100 years and the time-honored recipe — musical groups, rides, games, mouthwatering food — that made the 20th-century Savin Rock Park so storied as “the playground of New England.”

Marenna Amusements once again supplied the midway of rides and games.

A baker’s dozen dream of food and dessert trucks on Palace Street served up burgers, hot dogs, cheesesteak, fried dough, gyros, lobster rolls, kebabs and spicy chicken, as well as cannoli, cupcakes and ice cream.

The festival opened Friday, July 30, with welcoming remarks by Mayor Nancy R. Rossi, the committee’s honorary chairwoman, and followed with a spectacular rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by West Haven’s own Grace Kelly Nowak.

Rossi thanked the army of city departments, staff and volunteers that made the festival possible, including Public Works Commissioner Tom J. McCarthy, Human Resources Commissioner Beth A. Sabo, food truck coordinator Kristen Teshoney and entertainment coordinator John Ziada.

Rossi also encouraged people to check the West Haven City Hall Facebook page and the city website for information on upcoming centennial events.

“We have plenty of food trucks, we have gorgeous weather, and we have tents with items to buy,” Rossi told the festive crowd. “I hope everyone enjoys themselves and has a great time.”

Radio personality Brian Smith, back for a fourth time as the “ringmaster” of ceremonies, then heralded the evening’s musical lineup by proclaiming, “We’re back in business, baby!”

The Hooch, an acoustic duo melding elements of hip-hop, pop and soul with smooth vocals, warmed up the sea of concertgoers for headliner Mean Carlene, the hometown favorite.

MC played a two-hour-plus show of the party rock anthems you know by heart, including Dave Matthews Band’s “Ants Marching,” AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”

The band of jokesters — Rob Hames on bass guitar and vocals, Joe LaDore on acoustic guitar and vocals, Bobby Moran on electric guitar and vocals, Rich Weber on drums and vocals — entertained and interacted with the all-ages crowd, turning the concrete pad in front of the portable stage into a giant dance floor of family-friendly fun.

On Saturday, July 31, the 151-year-old Grove, fanned by a cool summer breeze, provided a stunning setting beneath the sun-drenched oak trees for concerts by Rubber City — powered by a horn section in the vein of Average White Band, Chicago and Tower of Power — and party funk group Covergirl.

They were complemented by Smith, a former co-host of WPLR’s “Smith and Barber the Morning Show,” who segued the bands with hysterical bursts of comic relief.

“I’ve been doing this for 100 years — since West Haven started,” he cracked before announcing the winning teams of the festival’s beach volleyball and bocce tournaments.

The volleyball winner was P.G. Sports; each player received a centennial stemless wine glass. The runner-up was Mandy and the Sandy Hands; each player received a centennial lapel pin.

The bocce winners were Ralph Manzo and Tom Mancini, over 60 division; Lawrence Manware and Scott Meager, under 60 division; and Cindy Thomas and TeJay Mejias, coed division. Each winning team received two $25 gift cards to ReBar Bar + Pizza.

Before the start of Rubber City, Rossi introduced U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who greeted festivalgoers and recognized veterans, including Vietnam War Army vet Rick Wigglesworth, of West Haven, who flanked the stage in a wheelchair because of a stroke he had years ago.

Blumenthal praised the centennial celebration by calling West Haven “one of the most patriotic towns in Connecticut and the United States.”

The evening’s headliner, Shameless, kept the dance party going by performing a high-energy set of hip-hop, pop and rock gems, including Van Halen’s “Jump,” Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” and House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”

The fired-up members of the five-piece band threw glow sticks and other party favors to the all-ages throng, cementing the Grove as dance party USA.

During the afternoon, members of the West Haven Fire Department, led by Capt. Mike Buonasora, demonstrated the Jaws of Life tool by prying open parts of a vehicle to free those trapped inside.

A short distance away, members of the West Shore Fire Department, led by Lt. Rebecca DeFrance, demonstrated their amphibious rescue boat.

West Haven Fire Marshal Keith T. Flood demonstrated the departments’ 35-foot smoke trailer and showed children what to do in the event of a fire.

At the craft fair, longtime vendors Diana Burnham and Diane Della Camera were joined by first-time vendors Jennifer Abrams, Kathleen Collister and Harvey Cutler to sell their wares.

Burnham, who owns Designs by Diana in Manchester, displayed her sterling silver Celtic jewelry, and Della Camera, of West Haven, sold Savin Rock T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, tote bags and fuzzy dice.

Abrams, the owner of The Crafty Llama LLC in Stratford, showed her handcrafted potholders, hats and tote bags, along with her customized mugs and hand-painted wine and shot glasses. Collister, who owns Curious Escape in Newtown, spotlighted her array of crystals, essential oils and jewelry, while Cutler, of West Haven, displayed his collection of vintage baseball cards, coins, movies and die-cast model cars.

West Haven Rotary Club President James P. O’Brien and Secretary Lynne Schlosser sold WestHavenOpoly, the West Haven centennial version of the board game Monopoly featuring prominent locations in the community. The $30 game is available at West Haven Rotary. Sales will benefit the Rotary Club Foundation.

The West Haven High School cheerleading team, led by coach Bridgette J. Hoskie, sold Westie bows, bracelets and temporary tattoos as part of its fundraising efforts.

The festival, which debuted July 24, 1982, joined 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.

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 40 years, the popular seaside park captured the hearts and imaginations of “Rock rats” young and old. “The Coney Island of Connecticut” shuttered Sept. 21, 1966, to pave the way for the Savin Rock Urban Renewal Project.

In the spirit of West Haven’s birthday, Sabo, the committee’s chairwoman, sold centennial coins, lapel pins and lawn signs at the hospitality tent.

Each person who bought 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.

All merchandise proceeds generated by the centennial committee will offset expenses and support the $50,000 centennial budget approved by the City Council, Sabo said.

Milford vendor JOD Designs, a veteran-owned screen printing company, sold centennial and Savin Rock T-shirts.

For a complete list of centennial events, see the Schedule. For centennial merchandise, visit the official Online Store.

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.

Watch the festival on West Haven YouTube.

— MICHAEL P. WALSH, Public Relations Information Coordinator

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Party rock band Shameless performs at the Centennial Savin Rock Festival in West Haven’s Old Grove Park on Saturday evening, July 31. The two-day festival, held by the City of West Haven Centennial Celebration Committee as part of events marking the community’s 100th birthday, attracted crowds of 5,000 and featured a fleet of food trucks. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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Hometown favorite Mean Carlene plays party rock anthems during the festival’s opening Friday evening, July 30, turning the Grove into a giant dance floor. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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West Haven’s Carlin Guarneri, left, and Elaine Costanzo have fun dancing to the music of MC on Friday evening, July 30. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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Mayor Nancy R. Rossi welcomes people to the Grove on Friday evening, July 30. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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Grace Kelly Nowak, of West Haven, sings a spectacular rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Friday evening, July 30. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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Radio personality Brian Smith, the master of ceremonies, proclaims, “We’re back in business, baby!” on Friday evening, July 30. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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Acoustic duo The Hooch melds elements of hip-hop, pop and soul with smooth vocals Friday evening, July 30. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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Marissa Franco, front, and Chloe O’Connor are all smiles taking orders from hungry customers at Franco’s Fried Dough-Licious on Friday evening, July 30, as Mark Franco prepares homemade fried dough inside his popular food truck. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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Szabo’s Seafood truck Friday evening, July 30. (City Photo/Alycia Sandella)

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Children enjoy the teacup ride by Marenna Amusements on Friday evening, July 30. (City Photo/Alycia Sandella)

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One of the carousel’s magnificent flying horses Friday evening, July 30. (City Photo/Alycia Sandella)

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The Dino ride Friday evening, July 30. (City Photo/Alycia Sandella)

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Mean Carlene on Friday evening, July 30. (City Photos/Michael P. Walsh)

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MC drummer and vocalist Rich Weber, the principal of Carrigan Intermediate School, on Friday night, July 30. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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More dancing with MC on Friday night, July 30. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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Partygoers have a blast onstage with MC on Friday night, July 30. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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Vietnam War Army veteran Rick Wigglesworth, of West Haven, center, is thanked for his service by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Mayor Nancy R. Rossi on Saturday afternoon, July 31. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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The fleet of food trucks on Palace Street on Saturday afternoon, July 31. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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During an extrication demonstration Saturday afternoon, July 31, firefighters of the West Haven Fire Department use the Jaws of Life tool to pry open the door of a vehicle to free those trapped inside. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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Action at the festival’s volleyball tournament at Sea Bluff Beach on Saturday afternoon, July 31. (City Photo/Diane Dietman)

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P.G. Sports, the volleyball tourney’s winning team, show their centennial stemless wine glasses Saturday afternoon, July 31. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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Tom Conroy, a program coordinator at the Department of Parks and Recreation, center, presents a $25 gift card to ReBar Bar + Pizza to Ralph Manzo, left, and Tom Mancini for winning the over 60 division of the festival’s bocce tournament Saturday afternoon, July 31. (City Photo/Olivia Quagliani)

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Conroy presents a $25 ReBar gift card to Scott Meager, left, and Lawrence Manware for winning the bocce tourney’s under 60 division Saturday afternoon, July 31. (City Photo/Olivia Quagliani)

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Conroy presents a $25 ReBar gift card to TeJay Mejias, left, and Cindy Thomas for winning the bocce tourney’s coed division Saturday afternoon, July 31. (City Photo/Olivia Quagliani)

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The horn-powered Rubber City performs rock classics by Average White Band, Chicago and Tower of Power on Saturday afternoon, July 31. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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Emcee Brian Smith interviews first-time craft vendor Kathleen Collister, the owner of Curious Escape in Newtown, who shows her array of crystals, essential oils and jewelry Saturday afternoon, July 31. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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West Haven High School cheerleading coach Bridgette J. Hoskie and incoming freshman cheerleader Zoe Regan sell Westie bows, bracelets and temporary tattoos Saturday afternoon, July 31. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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West Haven Vietnam Veterans Treasurer Steve Carney, left, and President Dave Ricci on Saturday afternoon, July 31. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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From left, festival volunteer Briana Hojo helps West Haven Rotary Club President James P. O’Brien and Secretary Lynne Schlosser sell WestHavenOpoly, the West Haven centennial version of the board game Monopoly, on Saturday afternoon, July 31. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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First-time craft vendor Harvey Cutler, of West Haven, chats with customers Saturday afternoon, July 31. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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Covergirl plays party funk hits Saturday evening, July 31. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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Festival entertainment coordinator John Ziada and centennial committee Chairwoman Beth A. Sabo sell centennial coins, lapel pins and lawns signs at the hospitality tent Saturday evening, July 31. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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George and Dorothy Chambrelli with their 8-year-old grandson, Luciano Chambrelli, on Saturday evening, July 31. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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A ball thrown by Alex Werle, 11, of West Haven, is about to hit the bull’s-eye and drop volunteer firefighter Brendan Carew of West Haven Hook and Ladder Company 1 into the dunk tank Saturday evening, July 31. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

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Shameless keeps the dance party going Saturday evening, July 31. (City Photos/Michael P. Walsh)

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Shameless at nightfall Saturday, July 31. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)

Video


Watch the Centennial Savin Rock Festival.