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Rose Arts Fest returns to Norwich with music and more

It's been almost 20 years since the Rose City Arts Festival rocked Norwich with a multi-day, multifaceted extravaganza.

But, on Saturday, a new one-day-into-night Rose City Arts Festival will be resurrected in splendid fashion. From 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., the action — including live music, food trucks, art displays and activities for kids and adults — takes place on Chelsea Parade. From 6 to 11 p.m., the fest segues into the downtown area where almost a dozen restaurants, clubs and arts centers will participate.

It's been a huge undertaking by the resurgent Rose Arts Festival Committee and chairperson Kelly August, and the vast array of live music acts, in a variety of locales, was by itself a truly Byzantine undertaking. Who better, then, to oversee the entertainment than Jason Wallace, owner and booking agent of Norwich's Strange Brew Pub? His Main Street bar features live music seven nights a week with a creative calendar blending local and touring acts in a variety of styles — and includes popular special nights like classic album recreations and singer-songwriter roundtables.

In addition to the festival's day-side lineup at Chelsea Parade, several clubs and dining spots will feature music throughout the evening. Performing on the Parade are The Beekeepers (9 a.m.), The CarLeans (10:15 a.m.), The Silks (11:30 a.m.), Funky Dawgz Brass Band (1 p.m.), Viva le Hop (2:15 p.m.) and headliner the Ryan Montbleau Band (4 p.m.). For a complete list of night-side acts, go to roseartsfestival.com.

"Kelly reached out to me in late winter about becoming the live music director and expressed the committee's desire for 'diversity' to represent the residents of Norwich," Wallace says. "In that context, I was up for the challenge, to say the least, and more than happy to donate my time."

Wallace cheerfully acknowledges it was a lot of work with a lot of factors, not the least of which was getting a relatively late start in securing several acts for an event taking place right before July 4th. Too, the festival is free and sponsored by a non-profit organization, so budget was a big issue.

"While all of our many sponsors played huge roles in making this happen," Wallace says, "I feel it's important to mention the Edward & Mary Ford Foundation, which helped get the budget where it needed to be for me to fulfill the reimagined format for Rose Arts. Without them, the caliber of live music wouldn't be anywhere near what we were able to pull off."

With the financial end handled, Wallace was able to turn his attention to securing acts, and he says he was pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety of artists he was able to book. "I'm thoroughly excited by the lineup," he says, "and there's a big difference between booking (for the Strange Brew Pub) and a lineup that can appease a diverse mass audience. Musical taste is subjective, to say the least, but I can confidently say no one can deny the talent and variety of these acts."

In the heyday of the festival, world-class entertainers from Stevie Wonder and Stevie Ray Vaughan to Earth, Wind & Fire and Ray Charles played Rose Arts. Without the time or budget to bring in arena-style headliners, Wallace nonetheless sought with great success to bring in fine original music acts that should create great Rose Arts memories in the tradition of the original festival.

"It's humbling to think you can't please everyone," Wallace says, "but we wanted to emphasize quality and diversity, and I think we did quite well."

Indeed, the Parade lineup mixes Montbleau (a blend of soul, lyrical narrative and jam band virtuosity), the urban groove of Funky Dawgs and Viva le Hop, the throwback style of the Silks, and the singer-songwriter melodicism of the CarLeans, the Beekeepers. For the evening hours, spread out in rooms across the city, the music presented a different challenge for Wallace.

"I wanted each venue to thrive, and the fact is that a lot of them aren't set up for full-on sound systems or bands," he says. "We wanted appropriate music for each room that still maintained difference in appeal, and we ended up with a lot of single or duo performers working in what I call a set theme for each place."

For example, Billy Wilson's will offer singer-songwriters; These Guys Brewing will have a blues/roots showcase; the Harp & Dragon hosts a "Tribute to Rose Arts Past"; "Female Voices of Connecticut" will entertain at Namoo Korean Eatery; "Solo Artists of Connecticut" perform at the Art Space Gallery; "Duos of Connecticut" will sing at Reliance Health Art Gallery; and much more.

For Wallace, who was born at Backus Hospital and graduated in the class of '04 from Norwich Free Academy, to be part of the rejuvenated Rose Arts Festival was a huge opportunity.

"Certainly, city pride is a factor in all this," he says. "Kelly August and the committee gave me a platform to do what I love most, which is to connect people through music. If you ask me, 'Will you book live music for the first large-scale music and arts event Norwich has had in almost 20 year?," the answer is a no-brainer. I'm there."

If you go

What: Rose Arts Festival

When and where: Saturday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Chelsea Parade, 6-11 p.m., downtown Norwich

How much: Free

For more information: www.roseartsfestival.com

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