Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette
Evan Wolfe’s daddy was serving in Afghanistan on Saturday, and his mommy had to work.

So it fell to grandmom Carolyn Wells and honorary grandpa David Pemberton, both of Fort Wayne, to take the 1 1/2 -year-old to his first parade.

And to teach the little boy a lesson one is never too young to learn.

As New Haven High School’s Alumni Band broke into “The Star-Spangled Banner” during Saturday’s annual Canal Days march up Park Street, Pemberton held the little boy’s right hand over his heart.

“That’s good. Now, you can do that every time you see a flag,” he told him.

Evan was just one of several first-timers to experience the longtime New Haven tradition, which itself had a significant first-time feature this year.

New for the festival was a full sound stage erected on the New Haven Middle School Parking lot facing Schnelker Park.

The temporary venue replaces having acts perform on a raised platform backed by a tent, said Mike Clendenen, superintendent of New Haven-Adams Township Parks and Recreation.

“It allows people to sit anywhere in the park and enjoy the concert,” he said., adding that the $6,000-plus high-tech set-up proved a big hit during Friday night’s Spike and the Bulldogs concert, which he estimated attracted at least 3,000 people.

The stage allowed the festival to go after national acts, Clendenen said, including two Nashville-based contemporary Christian bands that were to close out the festival Saturday night.

“We’re playing at night, and this lets us use lights. It enables us to use all the equipment we have, and there are a lot of festivals where we can’t,” said Logan Crockett, a production assistant for Sidewalk Prophets, one the bands.

Clendenen said since the Indiana State Fair stage collapse in 2011, festivals have faced increased scrutiny about outdoor venues. The new stage required a permit and a state inspection, he said. Putting up the stage cost about four times more than previous set-ups but seemed worth it, he said.

“People seem to have liked it,” Clendenen said. “We’ve let people know (about the cost) because we want to be able to do it again next year.”

Other first-timers among the hundreds lining the parade route was Owen Melchi, 17 months, in the arms of his dad, James Melchi, 24, of New Haven.

“He’s having a blast. He doesn’t want to stay in the cart. He wanted to see everything,” he said. “He likes the fire trucks.”

Melchi said his son was still too young to go after the candy traditionally thrown from the trucks and other vehicles, such as members of a Corvette Club in their convertibles and folks riding shiny farm equipment.

“When you get bigger, you’ll get the candy,” Melchi said.

Olive Ulmer, 6 months, probably won’t remember her first time at Canal Days. She spent most of the parade napping in her mother Tiffany Ulmer’s lap.

Her dad, Vaughan Ulmer, 30, who grew up in New Haven, watched his first Canal Days parade in 1983, “the year he was born,” Tiffany, 26, said, and so did the Fort Wayne couple’s son, Louie, last year when he was less than a year old.

Wearing a frilly pink skirt with white polka dots and a Minnie Mouse T-shirt, Olive was oblivious to the noise and bustle, “except she did open her eyes back at the beginning with the sirens,” her mother said.

Wells said she wondered how Evan would take all the commotion of the parade. Although this was his first parade, his grandma said it won’t be his last.

“We ride (motorcycles) with the American Legion Riders,” she said. “We just did the Memorial Day parade in Fort Wayne. … We’re into parades.”

POSTED: 06/09/13 at 8:12 am. FILED UNDER: Entertainment, News