The 35th Celebrate! West Hartford event kicked off on June 11, 2022 and will continue on Sunday with the FUNd RUNS at 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., and the festival from noon until 6 p.m.
By Baylee Krulewitz and Ronni Newton. Photos by Lily Guberman and Ronni Newton
Saturday’s weather was picture-perfect, and while Sunday wasn’t quite as nice, the rain stayed at bay as an estimated 30,000 people traversed the grounds of West Hartford Town Hall as Celebrate! West Hartford returned for monumental 35th anniversary, as well as the triumphant return of the festival after a two-year hiatus.
Many people – West Hartford residents and those from other towns throughout the region, young and old, families and friends – came out for a successful display of cheer and togetherness. Among the weekend’s festivities were varying musical acts, multicultural food displays, carnival rides, booths of small businesses and organizations of every kind, and more than 150 artisans from throughout the area selling one-of-a-kind pieces.
The town’s signature festival included something for everyone.
To attend this year’s Celebrate! was to enjoy it, with guests coming for many different purposes but all leaving with smiles on their faces. On Sunday, big crowds gathered around the stage to watch the musical performances of West Hartford’s School of Rock house band, Latanya Farrell, and Orquesta Afinke, with a dance floor forming in front.
Twirling and jumping, the kids in the audience quickly became fan favorites. Margie of Avon declared watching the joyous children to be the best part of the whole festival. She had come for the first time to see her West Hartford resident daughter, but stayed for the pure happiness of the kids in the crowd.
This excitement extended to all aspects of the event, with lines for the Scrambler and Tilt-A-Whirl as long as ever. Kids got their faces painted as parents shopped, and everyone was able to collect free samples from both new and veteran businesses advertising their services. A highlight this year was the Bundt cake handed out by Nothing Bundt Cake, a new bakery opening up in Corbin’s Corner this summer.
This year’s Celebrate! West Hartford revival provided a return opportunity for those who stopped coming years before COVID-19. Hall students Jackie Hamad and Jane Grove hadn’t attended the celebration since their middle school years, but were encouraged to come back this time around after the break for the pandemic.
Celebrate! West Hartford’s comeback was met with an energetic crowd and lots of activities for all who attended. This hallmark of West Hartford was dearly missed during the past two years, and it was evident that people were overjoyed to see it again and hopeful that this unifying festival will continue for many years to come.
Sunday morning also featured the FUNd RUNS, with Max Aronow of West Hartford winning the 5K race in 15:32, and Erin Lopez of Ivoryton the first woman to cross the finish line in 19:56. During the awards ceremony, Lauren Belanger, a student at Conard High School, was recognized for her design that was chosen as the image on the road race shirts.
All students in the graphic design classes entered the contest, and Belanger, who has run the 5K in past years, said she wanted to come up with an image that “represented the race and incorporated the shoe.”
Many of the runners wore their race shirt on Sunday morning. “It feels so cool to see everyone wearing it and knowing that it’s my design … just seeing it on a t-shirt is really cool,” Belanger said.
“We love supporting this and I love meeting the people who design it … I think it’s cool how they create it, brand it, then it gets thrown on the t-shirt,” said A.J. Shoham, manager of the Jerry’s Artarama in West Hartford. The winner of the shirt design contest receives a $250 gift certificate to Jerry’s Artarama that the business donates.
Also on Sunday, Mayor Shari Cantor officially accepted the town’s silver level certification from Sustainable CT.
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