Podunk festival hopes to call Kelly Middle School home in August

Norwich — The Podunk Bluegrass Festival hopes to move to Kelly Middle School Aug. 1 to 3 with camping in Mohegan Park if the City Council approves a proposed ordinance to lift the city’s ban on camping in the park for the event.

The festival moved from West Hartford to the Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium in 2012, but the Connecticut Tigers minor league baseball team will play a home series the week of the festival this year.

Festival promoter C. Roger Moss, the Norwich recreation director, said the plan calls for holding festival concerts in the Jaqueline Owens Auditorium at Kelly Middle School. The festival “village,” with tents, vendors, workshops and children’s activities, would be housed in the softball field to the left of the auditorium.

The festival annually draws campers in tents and RVs, so Moss has requested permission from the City Council to allow camping in Mohegan Park. Moss hopes to use the picnic pavilion and adjacent softball field on Mohegan Park Road in the park for camping.

Camping is not currently allowed, and the park officially closes after dark. Mayor Peter Nystrom will introduce an ordinance at Monday’s City Council meeting to allow camping from July 31 to Aug. 4 “at a location or locations to be designated by the Director of the Department of Public Works, and on such terms and conditions as he finds to be necessary for safety and convenience.”

The council on Monday is expected to schedule a public hearing on the proposed ordinance.

Nystrom said he has been working with Moss to try to keep the festival in Norwich after the scheduling conflict at Dodd Stadium came to light. Nystrom said the ordinance is intended to apply only to the Podunk festival this summer and leaves the final arrangements to Public Works Director Barry Ellison, whose department oversees the park.

“This is never going to turn into a year-round camping service,” Nystrom said. “That’s not what this is about. There are deed restrictions on the park land and that has to be respected.”

Ellison said he could not comment on specifics until the ordinance is approved and he meets with Moss to discuss the request. Ellison said the city has fees set for use of the picnic pavilion and surrounding area.

The festival had been scheduled to run Aug. 1 to 4, but Moss said Thursday that festival organizers decided to skip Sunday activities to save money.

It’s uncommon in the Northeast for music festivals to be held indoors, Moss said, but not so in other parts of the country. The advantages include eliminating concerns over weather and better climate control for musicians and instruments sensitive to heat and humidity.

“You’ll actually hear more music and less tuning during the concerts,” Moss said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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