WEST HAVEN, July 31, 2023 — Despite the Savin Rock Festival ending early because of an impending storm, the 2023 edition nevertheless paid homage to “the Rock,” the city’s legendary amusement park and the state’s most popular shoreline destination for decades.
In the interest of public safety, city officials concluded the two-day festival at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, July 29, because of the stormy forecast.
Magic of Motown, one of Day 2’s three bands, has been moved to this Saturday, Aug. 5, at 7 p.m. in Old Grove Park on Palace Street.
Opener The Generators were able to perform Saturday afternoon, July 29, and played a set of classic rock anthems.
Headliner Arena Rock Tribute is being rescheduled to a later date. Stay tuned for details.
Magic of Motown will perform a high-energy mix of R&B hits from the acclaimed catalog of Detroit’s Motown Records.
The Aug. 5 concert is sponsored by West Haven Vietnam Veterans Inc. and will include food trucks and craft vendors, starting at 3 p.m.
In addition, Marenna Amusements will offer a midway of rides and games off Oak Street from 5-10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4, and noon-10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5.
Marenna will sell wristbands for unlimited rides for $25 and a sheet of 21 tickets for $20.
To complement the entertainment, the West Haven Summer Concert Series on Thursday, Aug. 3, will feature a twin bill: The Generators at 6 p.m., followed by the horn-powered party hits of Rubber City at 8 p.m.
Both concerts will take place in the Grove, not on the West Haven Green, and will include food trucks and craft vendors.
The “Thursday Night Live!” concerts are free and presented by the Milford Regional Chamber of Commerce and the West Haven Department of Parks and Recreation.
This year’s Savin Rock Fest, albeit only a day in the historic Grove, showcased a wide variety of musical groups, rides, games and mouthwatering foods — the time-honored recipe that cemented the 20th-century Savin Rock Park as Connecticut’s Coney Island.
Along with Marenna’s rides and games, a row of food and dessert trucks served up burgers, hot dogs, cheesesteaks, fried dough, gyros, lobster rolls, tacos and meatball bombs, as well as cannoli, ice cream, cupcakes and kettle corn.
Despite the festival’s soggy grounds from recent heavy rain, Marenna did not disappoint, offering 10 rides and four games.
The annual festival opened on Friday, July 28, with welcoming remarks by Mayor Nancy R. Rossi and followed with a beautiful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Ana Garcia.
“I am proud to kick off the 2023 Savin Rock Festival and honor the history of the Rock,” Rossi told the festive crowd. “I hope you all enjoy the live music, the delicious foods from over a dozen food vendors, and visit the craft fair, which features 30 vendors.”
The mayor thanked city departments, employees and volunteers for making the event possible, including festival coordinator Killian Gruber, Public Works Commissioner Tom J. McCarthy, and entertainment coordinators Beth A. Sabo, the commissioner of human resources, and Brian Hayden, a program coordinator at Park-Rec.
“The collaboration between you all has been instrumental in organizing the Savin Rock Festival,” Rossi said.
The mayor also thanked the festival’s title sponsors, the University of New Haven, Yale University and Frankson Fence Co., as well as sponsors Baybrook Remodelers Inc., Affordable Waste Systems LLC and Adams Hometown Market.
Radio personality Brian Smith, back for a sixth time as the “ringmaster” of ceremonies, then heralded the evening’s musical lineup, joking, “Welcome to the 250th Savin Rock Festival!”
The Kathy Thompson Band, performing such hits as Bruce Springsteen’s “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” warmed up concertgoers for Day 1 headliner Shaded Soul Band, which played R&B favorites and pop gems, including The Temptation’s “My Girl,” The O’Jays’ “Love Train” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove.”
The bands entertained and interacted with the all-ages crowd, turning the concrete pad in front of the portable stage into a giant dance floor.
The groups were complemented by Smith, a former co-host of WPLR’s “Smith and Barber the Morning Show,” who segued the performers with hysterical bursts of comic relief.
At the craft fair, set beneath the Grove’s sun-drenched oak trees, returning vendor Maria C. Zerillo, who owns Besoleze, was joined by first-time vendor Marilyn Wilkes to sell their wares.
Zerillo displayed her handcrafted soaps and candles, and Wilkes showed her handmade, one-of-a-kind earrings, necklaces and bracelets.
At the festival’s hospitality tent, Sabo sold signed copies of the book “City of West Haven: Village to Town” from the West Haven Centennial Celebration in 2021, along with DVDs of the Savin Rock documentary, “See Ya at the Rock!”
West Haven’s flagship festival, established by the Chamber of Commerce, debuted on July 24, 1982, to bring organizations, clubs, businesses and families together for a summer festival that celebrates life in one of America’s oldest maritime 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 40 years, the storied seaside park captured the hearts and imaginations of “Rock rats” young and old. “The playground of New England” closed on Sept. 21, 1966, to make way for the Savin Rock Urban Renewal Project.
— MICHAEL P. WALSH, Public Relations Information Coordinator
Shaded Soul Band headlines opening night of the Savin Rock Festival in West Haven’s Old Grove Park on Friday, July 28. The band performed R&B favorites and pop gems, including The Temptation’s “My Girl,” The O’Jays’ “Love Train” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove.” City officials ended the two-day festival, sponsored by the University of New Haven, Yale University and Frankson Fence Co., at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, July 29, because of an impending storm. (City Photos/Michael P. Walsh)
People dance to the music of Shaded Soul Band on Friday night, July 28. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
“Welcome to the 250th Savin Rock Festival!” jokes radio personality Brian Smith, the master of ceremonies, on Friday evening, July 28. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
West Haven Mayor Nancy R. Rossi welcomes people to the Grove on Friday evening, July 28. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Ana Garcia sings a beautiful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Friday evening, July 28, as master of ceremonies Brian Smith puts his right hand over his heart. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
The Kathy Thompson Band warms up concertgoers Friday evening, July 28, playing such hits as Bruce Springsteen’s “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” (City Photos/Michael P. Walsh)
Elroy the Elk, the mascot of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, cuts loose to the music of Kathy Thompson on Friday evening, July 28. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Declan Smaldone, 5, rides the Dino roller coaster by Marenna Amusements on Friday evening, July 28. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Zoey Yedynak and son Jaxson Watcke, 3, enjoy the teacup ride by Marenna Amusements on Friday evening, July 28. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Games and rides galore by Marenna Amusements on Friday evening, July 28. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Handmade soaps and candles are displayed by returning craft vendor Maria C. Zerillo, who owns Besoleze, on Friday evening, July 28. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
First-time craft vendor Marilyn Wilkes shows her handmade, one-of-a-kind earrings, necklaces and bracelets Friday evening, July 28. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Keifer’s Kettle Korn on Friday evening, July 28. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Mark Franco, back left, and wife Marissa Franco, front left, take a break from preparing homemade fried dough in their Franco’s Fried Dough-Licious food truck Friday evening, July 28. Assisting the Francos are, front to back, Chloe O’Connor, Araceli Perrelli and Rob Barcsansky. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Szabo’s Seafood truck Friday evening, July 28. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Lucky Dog World’s Famous Hot Dogs and the delicious row of food and dessert trucks on Palace Street on Friday evening, July 28. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
West Haven Health Department chief sanitarian Hillary Lawrence, left, and sanitarian Sandhya Kandel pause after an inspection Friday evening, July 28. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)