Sailfest is coming back to New London after two-year hiatus
New London — Sailfest, the region’s largest summertime festival, is back this year after a two-year hiatus — and so are the fireworks.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Foxwoods Resort Casino have announced that they would be sponsoring what they call the “state’s largest fireworks display” on July 9, the second day of the three-day festival that runs July 8-10.
“For nearly 30 years the Mashantucket Pequot Thames River Fireworks Extravaganza has united thousands of visitors and residents as a longstanding family tradition, and particularly after two long pandemic years we are thrilled to return this exciting event to Southeastern Connecticut,” Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, announced in a statement.
The Mashantuckets have sponsored the fireworks for the event since 1993. Garden State Fireworks of New Jersey, the same outfit that has produced displays for Super Bowl XVLIII and the Washington, D.C., Fourth of July celebration at the National Mall, is producing the show.
Barbara Neff, owner of Neff Productions and executive director of the Downtown New London Association, the group that runs the event, has been busy with planning the return of the event, which was not held in 2020 or 2021 because safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think people are definitely looking to get out,” Neff said.
There will be some changes this year with some shifts in venues.
With a restaurant now located at Custom House Pier, live music will be located on a stage set up near a craft beer tent at Parade Plaza, near the Whale Tail. More than 200 food and merchandise vendors, along with amusements, will be set up along City Pier, Waterfront Park and Bank and State streets. This year, at the request of Mayor Michael Passero, the vendors will be located on one side of Bank and State streets and not on both sides, to allow better flow into the businesses and restaurants along the stretch. Portions of both streets are closed on Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s about trying to clean up the atmosphere and give the businesses a better opportunity to shine,” Passero said.
The Amistad schooner will be open for free tours on the waterfront. Noank Oysters will be available near the beer tent on Parade Plaza. Master woodcarvers from New England Woodcarvers will set up an exhibit in front of the Thames River Gallery at 239 Bank St. Hygienic Art Park at 79 Bank St. will host a Latin Stage on July 9 from 2 to 11 p.m.
A few New London businesses are getting into the act this year. Tox Brewing will be providing a special Sailfest Pale Ale for sale at the event and in local restaurants. On Saturday, from 6 to 8 p.m., visitors will have an opportunity to see inside the historical Thames Club at 290 State St., where Tox is hosting a special beer-tasting event.
Neff said she teamed up with Frank Merchany, creator of The New London Famous streetwear, for limited-edition T-shirts for this year’s event.
From her office on South Water Street, Neff has been busy planning for this year’s event, which she expects will draw more than the estimated 278,000 people who attended in 2019 even with a slight decrease in the number of vendors.
Neff said Shoreline East will be providing an extra train to ferry visitors to the city. Two trains from New Haven will be coming in and one going back on Saturday after the fireworks.
Because of staff shortages, the city’s police union in May expressed skepticism that the city could run the event safely.
Passero said safety is the top priority for the event and expressed confidence that proper planning and aid from a host of law enforcement entities will ensure visitors to the city will have a safe and fun time.
For more information and an entire schedule of events for the Sailfest, visit www.sailfest.org.