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Rose Arts Festival returning to Chelsea Parade on July 1

Norwich — Kelly August loved attending the Rose Arts Festival when she was a kid, and was shocked after returning to the city in 2004 after college that the beloved festival had gone defunct in 1998.

She often asked people: “Wouldn't it be great to bring back the Rose Arts Festival?” Everyone agreed, August said, but when it came to offering to take on the mammoth task of raising the estimated $20,000 per day needed, lining up bands and sponsors and vendors, the conversation waned.

“I asked around a little bit to gauge interest to see if anyone was willing to bring it back,” August said Wednesday. “When I wasn't getting the answer I was looking for, I decided to do it myself.”

August, 36, launched the Rose Arts Festival Committee in January and local businesses and residents quickly jumped on board. The committee has 20 volunteers and businesses have contributed sponsorships and venues for the dozens of live music, performing arts, free food and even a teen dance.

The new, one-day festival on July 1 at Chelsea Parade and downtown will be much different from the original multi-day event with a giant festival tent covering much of Chelsea Parade. But attendees also won't find a fence surrounding the parade with only ticket gates to enter.

"Everything will be free,” August said.

Several smaller tents will offer shade. Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, and can even bring food and non-alcoholic beverages. The festival website states: “good attitudes” are allowed, while “bad attitudes” are prohibited along with alcohol and weapons.

The festival will begin at 7 a.m. with the Rose Arts Road Races, 5K or 10K options for serious and casual runners. Registration is open until June 28 on the festival website, www.roseartsfestival.com.

William W. Backus Hospital offered its employee shuttle buses for free runs every 15 minutes from the Main Street parking garage and the Norwich Transportation Center from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The festival will come alive at 9 a.m., running through 6 p.m. at Chelsea Parade. Six live bands will start at 9 a.m. with the final performance starting at 4 p.m. A kids' zone will have a bounce house, giant slide, magic shows, storytelling, fantasy characters and face painting.

The parade will have 100 vendors, ranging from food trucks to arts and crafts booths, free yoga classes, martial arts demonstrations and information booths. Sponsor businesses also will have booths.

The Rose Arts Festival Committee could not bring back the wildly popular beer fest on Chelsea Parade. City leaders would have none of that, August said. But the committee wanted an evening adult component.

So at 6 p.m., the entire festival moves downtown, with entertainment at 10 different restaurants, bars and arts centers. Live music will carry themes. Billy Wilson's Ageing Still will host the “Singer/Songwriter Showcase,” while Artspace with have “Solo Artists of Connecticut Showcase.” Duos will perform at Reliance Health, the “Original Band Showcase” at Strange Brew Pub, “Female Voices” at Namoos Restaurant and the “Connecticut Blues Showcase” at These Guys Brewing.

The Harp & Dragon Irish Pub will feature two bands performing hits of the big acts that performed at Rose Arts Festivals past, including Stevie Wonder, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Charlie Daniels Band, Bobby Darin, Ray Charles and Dr. John.

Downtown also will have family-friendly components. The Donald Oat Theater at Norwich Arts Center will host a free teen dance at 7 p.m., with free food and beverages. Chelsea Players will perform a cabaret “Songs of the '30s and '40s Big Band Era” at 7 p.m. at the United Congregational Church with free cold drinks, coffee and snacks.

The schedule of performers and list of vendors are posted on the festival website and Facebook page, August said. Applications are closed for this year. The parade can house 150 vendors, so there is space for future expansion next year.

The $20,000-per-day cost covers musical performers, tent rental and logistics. The festival committee hopes to raise enough money next year to expand the event, August said.

“We did really well this year,” she said. “It picked up the pace rapidly. We absolutely are hoping to come back next year. We have a really overwhelming amount of support. I can easily see this becoming a two-day event next year."

c.bessette@theday.com

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