Sailfest kicks off in New London

Sean Nelson of the U.S. Coast Guard Dixieland Band leads audience members through the crowd during one of the songs while he and his fellow band members perform at the Custom House stage on opening night of Sailfest Friday, July 8, 2016.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Sean Nelson of the U.S. Coast Guard Dixieland Band leads audience members through the crowd during one of the songs while he and his fellow band members perform at the Custom House stage on opening night of Sailfest Friday, July 8, 2016. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

New London — The relative quiet on City Pier Friday afternoon was not expected to last long.

Sailfest attracts an estimated 300,000 over its three-day run in the city and Friday is just the start, according to event director Barbara Neff.

Neff, from her war room at Neff Productions on State Street, said setting up for the events and dozens of concession stands on the waterfront was just the start.

Beginning at about 7 a.m. on Saturday, about 250 vendors will start lining up on downtown streets, roads will be closed off and the city will be flooded with visitors. A small army of volunteers will help pull it off, she said.

Sailfest officially opened at noon on Friday and Neff said the real crowds will start arriving in anticipation of opening musical acts. At 6 p.m. Friday the U.S. Coast Guard Dixieland Band was expected to perform on Custom House Stage, while select talent from this year’s New London Youth Talent Show wouldperform at the City Pier Stage. The night’s musical acts were highlighted by a performance from Darik and the Funbags — a local favorite.

Adam Johnson, a father of two from Waterford, said the smaller Friday crowd was the reason he came with his two young sons — both of whom were busy picking from his plate of fries and making faces at the hawkers along the row of carnival games.

He said he was a little disappointed not to see a tall ship in the harbor, but planned to stay to hear some music. He had only just read about the new water taxi and said he might consider it as long as he was able to get back to shore well before dark.

“It’s nice to have something local like this … to keep the kids occupied without spending an arm and a leg,” he said.

Saturday evening, when the Mashantucket Pequot Fireworks Extravaganza takes place, is expected to attract the largest crowd over the three-day event.

There was also a large police presence on the waterfront Friday, with command center vehicles from state police and Amtrak police set up near the railroads tracks. Along with New London police officers, there was a mix of other agencies visible, including Homeland Security Police, Waterford Police and state police.

New London Chief Administrative Officer Steve Fields, a former state police lieutenant colonel, said in an earlier interview that security at the event took months of planning. He expected a smooth weekend.

Neff said the fun had just started.

g.smith@theday.com

Audience members gather around and on the edge of the City Pier stage while listening to one of the New London Youth Talent Show performers during their performance on opening night of Sailfest Friday, July 8, 2016.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Audience members gather around and on the edge of the City Pier stage while listening to one of the New London Youth Talent Show performers during their performance on opening night of Sailfest Friday, July 8, 2016. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Marquez Hamilton, 18, left, of New London, Wyatt Lamb, 17, of Groton, and Frank Arias, 16, of New London take a rest with while at Sailfest early on opening day Friday, July 8, 2016.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Marquez Hamilton, 18, left, of New London, Wyatt Lamb, 17, of Groton, and Frank Arias, 16, of New London take a rest with while at Sailfest early on opening day Friday, July 8, 2016. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

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