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West Hartford Ready to Celebrate! Again – We-Ha

The 37th Celebrate! West Hartford returns on Saturday, June 8 and Sunday, June 9, and here’s a guide to what you need to know. PDFs of the complete festival program as well as a list of vendors can be found below.

Celebrate! West Hartford will return on June 8-9, 2024. Photo Credit: Bridget Bronsdon (we-ha.com file photo)

By Ronni Newton

Celebrate! West Hartford has been a not-to-be-missed event in the region since 1987 and has grown from a small town fair to what is now a two-day festival that includes something for everyone.

Now in its 37th year, Celebrate! West Hartford will be held on Saturday, June 8, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, June 9, from noon to 6 p.m. on the grounds of Town Hall.

When it began, Celebrate! was a one-day event, but it has now evolved into an award-winning festival that in past years has regularly attracted nearly 40,000 people during the course of its two-day run – town residents, people from throughout Connecticut, and tourists who come to West Hartford specifically to enjoy the great food, fun, music, crafts, and exhibits of civic and community resources that the festival has to offer.

“Exciting things are happening at Celebrate! this year,” said Event Director Linda Geisler. “Of course we have our returning line up of carnival fun, the petting zoo, and exhibitor giveaways and activities. The food court welcomes several new vendors including regional favorite, Bear’s Smokehouse,” she said.

“We also have a great lineup of musical entertainment from the local area. Last Licks, a classic rock band who often performs at Mohegan Sun Wolf Den, is anchored by West Hartford’s Gray Fowler. And dance hits cover band, Down To Funk is a group of young musicians who have made the Hartford area their home after graduating from the Hartt School of Music. It’s impressive how much local talent we have in the area,” Geisler said.

“Celebrate! is truly a special tradition for the town and a great way to kick-off the summer season.”

“Celebrate! West Hartford is made possible due to generous sponsorships,” said Co-Chair Marsha Jacobskind. “We’re excited to see all of our sponsors on the grounds of Town Hall, and appreciate their support in making this a beloved community celebration every year.”

“West Hartford is something special, with a unique combination of businesses, top notch education, and a walkable central area and which combines old and new seamlessly,” said Co-chair Peter Travers. “Most importantly, we have an engaged and diverse population of residents. The Celebrate! West Hartford Festival has brought the community together since 1987, featuring amusement park rides, an arts & crafts show, food court, and live entertainment.

“On Sunday, there is also a 5K road race and a kids 1K fun run. The proceeds of event benefit the Leisure Services Scholarship Fund, enabling kids in need to go to summer camp, as well as The Town That Cares fund, which provides temporary financial assistance to neighbors in times of crisis,” added Travers. “Celebrate! West Hartford upholds a long tradition of community collaboration where everyone is welcome.”

“On behalf of the Town of West Hartford, I am delighted to welcome everyone back to town for the 37th annual Celebrate! West Hartford,” Mayor Shari Cantor said. “This signature event draws people from all over the region to our town to enjoy the festival and while they are here, to experience first-hand the dynamics that make West Hartford an award-winning place to live. Come and have a great time,” she said.

Celebrate! West Hartford is open to the public and is held rain or shine. There is no admission charge and ample parking is available. More information can be found at www.celebratewesthartford.com.

Here’s what you can expect to find at this year’s Celebrate! West Hartford.

Celebrate! West Hartford map. Courtesy image

Juried Arts & Crafts Show

Celebrate! West Hartford has developed a national reputation, and is a multi-year winner of Sunshine Arts Top-200 Best Shows in the country. Master artists and crafters come to Celebrate! West Hartford from up and down the East Coast.

Ann Torrey, The Crafty Peddler, returns to the Arts & Crafts Show this year with her paintings that use eggshells for texture. Courtesy photo

This year’s show will feature the original works of more than 150 master artists and crafters from all over the country, offering shoppers a diverse variety of jewelry, pottery, woodwork, sculpture, leather, metal, stone, mixed media, textiles, glasswork, art, photography, apparel, personal care items, and more that can be purchased directly from their creators.

“We have been overwhelmed with the response to the 2024 Arts & Crafts show. With so many vendors interested in our show, we had to close our applications early,” said Rebecca Holmes, the Arts & Crafts Show Director, who added that she is encouraging those who were disappointed at not getting in to apply early for the 2025 show. “With almost 70% of our 155 vendors returning to the festival, we welcome new artists who will provide diversity and new items for visitors to enjoy.”

One of those returning vendors is Max Schweitzer, a West Hartford resident, who participated for the first time in 2023. Dubbed the “Rock Artist” in a Hartford Courant article in October 2023, Schweitzer (www.schweitzerstudios.com, Instagram @schweitzerstudios) designs drawings on slate, with a focus on animals, and has also done commissioned works of clients’ pets. Holmes said Schweitzer was so pleased with the success that he was one of the first applicants this year.

Local artists Max Schweitzer designs images on slate, with a focus on animals. Courtesy photo

Also returning this year is Ann Torrey, The Crafty Peddler. A participant for the past several years, Torrey uses eggshells to create dimension in her paintings, and loves sharing her technique with visitors.

“I am excited to be in my second year as the Arts & Crafts Show director and look forward to welcoming our vendors and festival visitors alike,” she added.

The Arts and Crafts show will be open on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Admission is free.

A list of vendors will be published on the Celebrate! West Hartford website, and programs listing the artists and crafters, their works, and their locations will be available at Information Booth No. 1 on South Main Street.

Food

Calories don’t count at festivals.

Even if you don’t start out hungry, the smells coming from the 20-plus food vendors at Celebrate! West Hartford will get your taste buds excited. A selection of yummy dishes range from festival favorites like Grandpa’s Kettle Korn, to healthy options, to a variety of desserts and other sweet treats.

Rotary Club will be back grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, as will some other standbys like J’s Crab Shack and Harry’s Bishops Corner.

West Hartford’s Sweet Chili will return with their delicious Pad Thai, fried rice, and other specialties.

Come for lunch, stay for dinner. There are more than 100 menu choices in the food court, as well as food like soft serve ice cream and fried dough available within the carnival area!

Pad Thai with Chicken from Sweet Chilis. 36th Annual Celebrate! West Hartford. June 10-11, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Bromleigh Enterprises will have iced and hot coffee, as well as water, available at the corner of Memorial Road and South Main Street, in the Arts & Crafts area. 

Vendors include:

  • Banh Meee – Pork and beef Banh Mi; pork nuggets, eggrolls; Vietnamese coffee and lime aid
  • Bears Smokehouse – BBQ Brisket, pork butt, pulled chicken, mac and cheese, cornbread, coleslaw
  • Ben & Jerry’s – Ice cream, sprinkles, chocolate chip cookies
  • Bromleigh Enterprises – Iced coffee, hot coffee – with fixins that include oat and 2% milk, liquid sugar, and bottled water.
  • Chompers – Fried Two-Bite Balls: bacon cheeseburger, chicken parm, taco
  • Cuckoo’s Hawaiian Shave Ice – various flavors and toppings
  • Flavors – Caribbean-inspired menu, tropical juices, frozen pina coladas, desserts
  • Get Roasted LLC – Roasted corn on the cob with a twist. Street corn veggie option and corn in a bowl.
  • Good Ole Boys Lemonade – Fresh Squeezed Drinks: Lemonade, Limeade, Cherry Limeade, and strawberry lemonade.
  • Grandpa’s Kettle Korn – Kettle Korn
  • Greater Hartford Host Lions Club – French Fries with seasonings; soft drinks, water
  • Happy Tail Coffee – Espresso, cappuccino, café au lait latte, chagaccino latte, and baked goods with gluten free options
  • Harry’s Bishops Corner – Cheese and Pepperoni pizza slices
  • J’s Crab Shack – Lobster Rolls, fried clam strip rolls, fried shrimp, Poutine fries
  • Nothing Bundt Cake – 5-7 delicious flavors of Bundtlets
  • Prime Concessions – Sausage, cheesesteak, Greek gyro, chicken pita, chicken tenders; footlong corn dogs, tea, fruit punch, soda, and water
  • Rotary Club of West Hartford – Hot dogs; hamburgers; cheeseburgers; chips, and drinks
  • Sultan Kebab LLC – Gyro, chicken gyro, kebabs, falafel, tacos, quesadilla
  • Sweet Chili – BBQ chicken, Pad Thai, fried rice, spring roll; orange chicken, smoothie bubble tea, Thai ice tea
  • TasteHouse Food Truck – Sandwiches including hot and cold meats with Spanish flavors, specializing in “chopped cheese,” salads, meat-loaded fries, fruit salads
  • The Bridge Family Center – Soda and water
  • The Green Teahouse – Iced tea
  • The Kitchen at Futures Inc – Flavored iced teas, sweetened and unsweetened
  • Tibetan Peace Seeding Center – Beef, chicken, and veggie momo (dumpling), chow mein, drinks
  • Vinci’s Concessions – Fried dough, lemonade, strawberry lemonade, bottle water
  • World’s Best Sundae, Inc. – Soft ice cream products, frozen cappuccino, water

Carnival Rides and Games – plus some fun freebies

Maybe this part should have come before the section about food, but for many young and young-at-heart, the carnival rides are the best part of Celebrate! West Hartford.

Commerford Amusements will operate the Celebrate Amusement Park this year, and it will include rides that range from the tame (like kiddie cars), to classics (ferris wheel, carousel) to the adventurous and include Dizzy Dragons, RoundUp, and Rock O’Plane, SideWinder, and Wave Runner. There will also be a rock wall.

Credit cards will be accepted for purchase of ride tickets.

36th Annual Celebrate West Hartford, June 10-11th, 2023. Photo Credit: Bridget Bronsdon (we-ha.com file photo)

Young children will enjoy the petting zoo, with hand sanitizer and water bottles provided by petting zoo sponsor Physician One Urgent Care.

Folks of all ages can enjoy the chance to try for a hole-in-one at West Hartford’s own newly-refurbished (courtesy of Eagle Scout David O’Connor) 9-hole mini golf course. Each hole of the course replicates a well-known landmark such as the West Hartford Town Hall, the First Church Congregational, Noah Webster House, the Westmoor Park Barn, and a West Hartford fire truck.

Many are focused on living a healthy lifestyle – which includes bicycling, and those who choose to cycle to Celebrate! West Hartford can find secure bicycle parking on Burr Street courtesy of Bike West Hartford. There will be no fee, but donations will be welcomed. For more information on Bike West Hartford, visit www.bikewesthartford.org.

Thanks to the West Hartford Firefighters Association who will be back providing first aid for anyone needing medical care. If emergency assistance is required, ask a staff person at any of the three Information Booths to summon help.

Nonprofit and Business Exhibitors

Dozens of nonprofits and other businesses have reserved tent space at Celebrate! West Hartford once again this year. Visitors to the event can stop by the booths to learn more about the organizations.

There are plenty of free activities at the nonprofit and sponsor booths as well, ranging from coloring pages and puzzles, raffles, martial arts challenges, games to win prizes, and loads of giveaways.

Many of the booths offer hands-on activities such as robotics and coding events from NextGen SmartyPants, and the booths are a great vehicle for clubs and other local organizations to engage the community and provide education about the wide range of services available.

Alliance Integrated Marketing Service will bring an oculus virtual reality driving simulator and fatal vision goggles for the public to experience.

Presenting sponsor PeoplesBank will greet festival goers.

West Hartford Community Interactive will have a live video lab where the public can have their own “green screen” adventure, and will be providing live coverage of portions of the festival throughout the weekend.

Local businesses like School of Rock will provide mini-lessons, and Studio 310 will lead a fitness challenge.

“The event is a great vehicle for community engagement. People enjoy learning about the wide range of services available to them through nonprofit or business exhibitors,” said Geisler. “At the same time, they reconnect with friends from all over town.”

The locations of all the activities will be posted on the website and in the Celebrate! West Hartford program that will be available at the Information Booths both days of the festival.

36th Annual Celebrate! West Hartford. June 10-11, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Music

Music is an important part of Celebrate! West Hartford, and the main stage will feature a variety of entertainment throughout the two-day festival.

On Saturday, the showmobile stage will feature a variety of ensembles from West Hartford’s schools, beginning at 10:30 a.m. and lasting through 6 p.m. Sunday’s performers include several professional groups offering a wide variety of musical styles.

The schedule of musical performances (at press time) features:

Saturday, June 10

  • 10:30-11:30 a.m. Northwest Catholic Band and Jazz Singers
  • 11:40 a.m.-12:25 p.m. Sedgwick Middle School Jazz Band
  • 12:35-1:20 p.m. King Philip Middle School Jazz Band
  • 1:30-2:15 p.m. Bristow Middle School Big Band
  • 2:25-3 p.m. Conard High School Be S#arp
  • 3:10-4:30 p.m. Hall High School Jazz Band II and Concert Jazz Band
  • 4:40-6 p.m. Conard High School Jazz Band and Concert Jazz Band

Sunday, June 11

  • Noon-1 p.m. The Gray and Joe Show
  • 1:30-3:30 p.m Last Licks (classic rock that often performs at Mohegan Sun Wolf Den)
  • 4-6 p.m. Down to Funk (dance hits cover band featuring Hartt School of Music grads)

Road Races

Organizers have charted a new course for the Celebrate! West Hartford 5K race this year – a picturesque route that highlights not only the town’s iconic Center, but also traverses along the Trout Brook Trail.

The FUNd RUNS, which will be held on Sunday morning, June 9, 2024, are part of West Hartford’s signature Celebrate! West Hartford two-day outdoor festival – with the named changed from the former “Road Races” during the pandemic to emphasize the charitable nature.

The races traditionally draw great crowds and are one of the most eagerly anticipated parts of the weekend.

Town staff and the FUNd RUNS Committee have been working hard over the past year to create the route and obtain USATF certification, describe the course as follows: “Starting in the center of one of Connecticut’s most picturesque towns, the new Celebrate! West Hartford 5K course starts on South Main Street near the statue of native son, Noah Webster. Runners proceed north passing by historical landmarks, buildings, and homes. The course turns east into the heart of one of West Hartford’s quintessential neighborhoods. Then runners head south on the newly completed paved Trout Brook Trail, where participants will be cheered on by the brook ducks and may even catch a glimpse of the resident eagle. The course departs the scenic trail at the intersection of Memorial Road, turning west for a short uphill past the Delamar Hotel, before the flat finish between Raymond and Isham Roads.”

The festival tent in the Town Hall parking lot will serve as the gathering spot for both the start and finish of the 5K race as well as the Kids K non-competitive dash. The Kids K route loops through Blue Back Square, and all participants receive medals. The Kids K will begin at 8 a.m. on June 9, while the 5K begins at 9 a.m.

Registration is now open, and early registration pricing ($30) is in place through 11:59 p.m. on May 31, 2024. The registration fee for the Kids K is $5. A race shirt is guaranteed to those who register by May 31.

A portion of the FUNd RUNS proceeds is donated to West Hartford families in need through The Town That Cares and the Leisure Services Scholarship Fund.

The 5K race is USATF certified and open to runners ages 6 and up. Children ages 2 to 10 are eligible to participate in the Kids K, but older chaperones are welcome to accompany the young runners.

More information about Celebrate! West Hartford, as well as online registration for the races, is available at www.CelebrateWestHartford.com.

Celebrate! West Hartford FUNd RUNS. June 11, 2023. Photo Credit: Bridget Bronsdon (we-ha.com file photo)

General Information, including Parking, Traffic, and Pets

Key information as well as fun photos will be posted both in advance and throughout the Celebrate weekend on the Facebook page (@celebratewesthartford). Celebrate! West Hartford is also on X with the handle @CelebrateWH and on Instagram (@celebrateweha). Use the hashtag #CelebrateWH with your tweets and photos to keep up with the latest news and information from the 37th anniversary of the event.

Celebrate! West Hartford is open to the public and is held rain or shine. There is no admission charge and ample free parking is available on neighborhood streets and in the Isham Garage (17 Isham Road).

Handicapped parking will be available on Burr Street, and will be monitored by staff.

Due to the large number of people expected to attend Celebrate! West Hartford, event organizers are encouraging through-traffic to avoid the center of town. People coming to the event are asked to consider walking, biking (free bike park on Burr Street), using the bus, or carpooling are suggested.

One final note about your four-legged friends: Although we love dogs of all shapes, colors, and sizes in West Hartford, organizers of Celebrate ask that you please leave them at home.

“Public events are tough on dogs: the hot asphalt (which can cause scalded paws); the hordes of people towering above them; the multiple of smells from the food court, the music and shrieks of delight from the children enjoying the rides, all combine to form an anxiety-producing, sensory overload for your dog,” West Hartford Animal Control advises.

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