Where It All Began

BRANFORD FESTIVAL HISTORY

Since its inception, Father’s Day weekend in Branford, CT has become synonymous with the Branford Festival. The Branford Festival is part of the community spirit that makes our town so unique. Year after year, we gather on the Branford Green from near and far to reunite with family and friends and gobble down strawberry shortcake and fried dough. We listen to toe-tapping music of all sorts, and maybe we even run in the road race on Sunday morning.

HOW IT ALL BEGAN…

Judy Gott, then First Selectman, and Ray Figlewski, long-time Branford resident and local business owner, wanted to encourage more residents to enjoy the newly revitalized town center. Ray had participated in the Falmouth, MA road race and admired the activities surrounding that event. So, he organized a small road race in Branford modeled after Falmouth. Ray thought, like Falmouth, Branford might be able to hold a festival around the road race that would bring more people downtown.

Judy brought the idea to colleagues both in and outside of town hall. Their enthusiastic response encouraged her to further explore the possibility of a town wide festival. She recruited Roger Shaffer, another local business owner, to chair the event.

Many of the unique features that make today’s Branford Festival so special—from the traditional Festival print and specially designed t-shirt to big name performers on Saturday nights—were initiated by Roger. Roger demonstrated the breadth of his vision for the Branford Festival by inviting Arlo Guthrie, a folk singer of national repute, as the main act that first Saturday night. To everyone’s surprise, Arlo accepted and, to their equal surprise, over 10,000 people showed up to hear him sing. Many in the audience joined in as Guthrie launched into “Alice’s Restaurant,” his trademark 18-minute anti-draft song that had catapulted him to stardom in 1967.

Five years later, the Festival created a formal operating structure: the Festival Corporation, which oversees management of the event, and the Festival Committee who is charged with organizing event logistics.

Since those early years, hundreds of volunteers have continued to make the Festival a success. Committee members oversee event details including food vendors, entertainment, kids activities, souvenir vendors and more. They select the artist for the annual Festival poster and organize the Father of the Year contest. They also solicit donations and sponsors from both individuals and local businesses.

Our dedicated volunteers work with staff from Public Works, Branford Recreation Department, and Board of Education to set up the main stage, tents, tables, chairs as well as install lighting, hang banners, and clean-up after the event. Both Branford Police and Fire Departments are a tireless presence Festival weekend, making sure that from start to finish the weekend runs smoothly and safely.

Musical acts are the mainstay of the Festival and have included local, regional and national talent. Main Stage performers have included local bands like the Fabulous Farquhar and Eight to the Bar, to original groups such as the Kingston Trio, The Association, and John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, to tribute groups such as Get Back (The Beatles), Big Shot (Billy Joel) and Papa Do Run Run (Beach Boys). Additionally, the Branford High School Concert Choir has always been a key component of the musical offerings.

There is no doubt that food is an essential component of the Branford Festival, including staples such as the Rotary Club’s pancake breakfast, fried dough, ice cream, sausage and peppers and more.

And what would the Festival be without Saturday’s craft and business expo? The Green attracts dozens of local businesses and crafters to showcase their work. The expo attracts over 4,000 folks.

As the original impetus for the Branford Festival, the Branford Road Race has become a Father’s Day tradition. The race began in 1979 as a 7.5 mile race from Caldor’s in the Branhaven Plaza. It has since moved to start and finish on the Branford Green and now offers a 5- Mile race, 2-mile health walk and 1-mile kids fun run.