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South Hadley Falls planning one-day music fest Saturday

This was how the idea came about for the South Hadley FallsFest, a free one-day music festival Saturday from noon to 10 p.m. at Beachgrounds Park at 116 Main St. The event will also have a variety of activities for children and adults, including a climbing wall, bounce houses, arts and crafts and a drum circle, and families are encouraged to bring blankets and lawn chairs.

“It was very inspiring just to see everyone coming together and having a good time,” South Hadley Falls Neighborhood Association Chairwoman Gillian Woldorf said of last year’s block party. “The idea was to come up with something bigger and better for the next year.”

At the block party, held last July, there were information tables from 15 community organizations, a barbecue and the local jazz band InterTrip was the sole musical act, Woldorf said. The event drew a crowd of more than 100, she said.

Select Board member Ira Brezinsky and town resident Carol Constant, who would team up as co-chairs of the FallsFest organizing committee, decided that a music festival would be the best way to make the party bigger.

This year, 10 musical acts will be performing nonstop for the duration of the festival, alternating between two stages. The main stage is for established artists, and the second stage will showcase up-and-coming local performers.

In selecting the music, Brezinsky said, FallsFest organizers looked for variety so there would be something for everybody. He said they particularly sought out artists who do their own songwriting and arrangements.

Among the artists playing on the main stage is Roger Salloom, who will perform with lead vocalist Jessica Freeman, a six-piece band and back-up singers. Salloom, who has lived in Northampton for the past 33 years, said he is very fond of South Hadley, the town where his parents lived in the 2000s as residents of the Loomis Village.

He said he is excited to see what the music festival will do for the town.

“These festivals — they’re hard to get started, but if you can get them up and running, they take on a life of their own,” Salloom said in a phone interview.

Another artist playing on the main stage is Katelyn Richards. Originally from Quincy, Richards graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2008 and remained a resident of the Valley until last October, when she moved to New York City. She released her first full-length album, “Have Yours Too,” in early 2012, and said she is working on her second album.

A songwriter and self-taught guitarist, Richards describes her music as lyrically centered. She said she feels it has mainstream appeal — but with a little bit of an edge. And while she says she likes to borrow from several genres, she doesn’t adhere to one specifically.

Richards, who noted that she still has many friends and fans in South Hadley, said she thinks the music festival will be a great community builder.

“I really think it would benefit everyone to be able to see firsthand what kind of art happens very regularly in their area,” she said in a phone interview.

Art Steele, of The Art Steele Blues Band, who will be playing on the main stage, said he is looking forward to the added energy of performing on an outdoor stage. He likens the adjustment music artists must make when playing outdoors to a stage actor having to “project.”

“They don’t just mean raise your voice,” said Steele, who lives in Sunderland. “You’ve got to really project musically and emotionally and bring everybody together.” Other artists performing on the main stage will be Eight to the Bar, Jose Gonzalez and Criollo Clasico. InterTrip will return to the Beachgrounds this year to play on the main stage.

There will be an opening ceremony on the second stage at 1:15 p.m. with remarks from Col. Steven Vaultrain, Commander of the 439th Airlift Wing from Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee. The 439th Patriot Wing Honor Guard will present the colors, and Lt. Col. Philmore Williams of the U.S. Army Reserve 302nd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade will sing the national anthem.

Musical acts that will follow on the second stage are Jonah Dratfield and Gus Kohlin, both students at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School; Alexa King and Caroline Lee, both juniors at South Hadley High; Donna Lee, a country singer from Ware, whose performance will be especially geared toward children; and The Miles Kept, the stage name of singer-songwriter Joey Milewski, a South Hadley resident attending Syracuse University.

Biggest event in a decade

Local food vendors at the event will include El Guanaco, The Log Cabin, McCray’s Country Creamery and Farm, Old Towne Caterers, Red Neck Roasters and Yarde Tavern. FallsFest volunteers will sell cold drinks, and the Lions Club will sell hot dogs and root beer floats. There will also be a beer and wine tent.

Funds generated from the event will benefit the Neighbors Helping Neighbors Food Pantry and the Westover USO. While there is no admission cost, donations of nonperishable food are welcome, and volunteers from the food pantry will be stationed at the park entrances to collect contributions.

Andy Rogers, director of the town recreation department, which is co-sponsoring the festival with the South Hadley Falls Neighborhood Association and the South Hadley-Granby Chamber of Commerce, said he believes this is the biggest event planned in the Falls in at least the last 10 years. He said he is excited about seeing people use Beachgrounds Park, and hopes it draws visitors from outside of town.

“I’m hoping nonresidents that come to town can appreciate what a group of volunteers can do to show South Hadley in such a positive light,” Rogers said. “There’s some pretty talented people here. It should be truly a good day.”

Woldorf, who has lived in South Hadley for more than five years and has been a resident of the Falls neighborhood for more than three, said one of the reasons she chose to buy a home where she did is because of its proximity to the Beachgrounds.

“The Beachgrounds, I think at this point at least, is the shining jewel of the Falls,” she said. “So it would be great to have people come in and see what great area of town this is.”

Jeffrey Labrecque, chairman of the South Hadley Community and Economic Development Commission, said the exposure that FallsFest will bring to the neighborhood is critical to the long-term success in the community’s economic growth.

While the Community and Economic Development Commission has had no direct involvement in the FallsFest, Labrecque stressed that the commission fully supports the event. He said the event will be a good example to the community of what the future of the Falls area could be if events like this continue.

“Hats off to all those people that really put the FallsFest together. They’re going to make the Falls area, with this particular event, alive and active again,” Labrecque said. “This should bring a fresh sense of what the possibilities can be for the Falls area.”

Brezinsky said he hopes FallsFest will become an annual event that people throughout the region will look forward to each year.

Salloom noted how people like to take advantage when there is a brief window of good weather.

“When we get a few months, we flutter around like butterflies. It’s good for us,” Salloom said. “We need to get out, spread our wings, lie on the grass (and) listen to music.”

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