by Beth Stauffer

Friday and Saturday June 7th and 8th were a whirlwind of activity on the three entertainment stages at the New Haven Canal Days Festival.

Literally kicking off the night on Friday at the Main Stage by the New Haven Middle School was Mr. Mark Best and his students from the White Tiger Martial Arts Academy.  The students performed and interesting and provocative martial arts demonstration both on stage and on the lawn in front of the barricade for the crowd that was gathered beginning at 5 pm.

At 5:30 pm, Fort Wayne recording artist Jeff McDonald brought his eclectic style of Americana-folk music to the Gazebo stage in Schnelker Park for the dinner crowd gathered by the Canal Eatery.

By 6:00 pm, a sizeable crowd had already started forming for the 18th New Haven Canal Days entertainment stage performance by Spike & the Bulldogs at 7:30 pm.  Before show time, the crowd had swelled to its largest proportions in Canal Days history, and Spike & the Bulldogs put on a rollicking performance until 10 pm that thrilled the crowd and prompted couples young and old alike to dance in each other’s arms on the lawn between Park Hill Center and New Haven Middle School.  A free-will offering taken during the Spike & the Bulldogs intermission raised $263 towards next year’s New Haven Canal Days Festival.

Beginning at 8 pm, another new stage (besides the new Main Stage) made its debut appearance as an official entertainment venue of the New Haven Canal Days Festival:  the gazebo at Canal Landing!  At 8 pm, DJ TJ Deller hosted karaoke at Canal Landing in the middle of the Burton Brothers Midway.  After several years without karaoke at the festival, karaoke came back in such a big way this year we hope to bring it back again in an even bigger way next year.

Capping off a beautiful Friday night under the stars was a twilight showing of the movie ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ on a big screen on the Main Stage.

Saturday was a day that has been in the planning stages for the last 8 months, and the weather could not have been more perfect if the Festival Committee had planned it, too.

While over on Park Avenue the annual New Haven Canal Days Parade was running on time and smooth as butter, the Main Stage set up and sound checking for the Faith & Family Night on Saturday was hitting a few bumps in the road.  God showed up in a big way, providing everything that was needed from a licensed electrician who showed up from out of nowhere just when needed to finding exactly the number of showers in private homes that were needed when travel plans changed and a hotel was unexpectedly booked up.

After the chaos of the morning, the afternoon proved to be a fantastic time with New Haven native the Great Andini, Andy Kohrman, performing his amazing magic show for the first time at Canal Days on the Main Stage.   The Great Andini also proved to be a terrific roving magician, delighting the crowds along the parade route earlier in the morning and during the Sidewalk Prophets pre-show on Saturday night.

Due to popular demand, following the Family Magic Show with the Great Andini area worship band Live 4:1 returned to Canal Days to perform once again, only this time on the Main Stage.  Live 4:1 played an uplifting and heartening two hour set featuring both original music, traditional hymns, and contemporary praise music.  To read all about Live 4:1, search for the band by name here on New Haven Bulletin.Com.

Over on the Gazebo Stage, Saturday was packed with back to back entertainment for those who came to fill their bellies with delicious eats from the Canal Eatery or peruse the finery in the Craft Tent.  Following the Parade, the always popular New Haven High School Alumni Band played the Gazebo as they do every year to the delight of both young and old alike.  Immediately following the parade, the winners of the Parade are announced at the Gazebo.

Following these two annual traditions, the Festival Committee welcomed for the first time to New Haven Joe Justice.  Joe Justice’s live acoustic set covers a spectrum of genres from folk and R&B to soft rock and smooth jazz.  His repertoire includes hits from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and now and also includes some original music.

The HitMen took the stage following Joe Justice, and according to one Festival Committee member who thoroughly enjoyed their show, “These guys are Main Stage material for next year.”  According to the band’s Facebook page, they have a combined total of nearly 200 years of musical experience, so it is little wonder they amazed and impressed both the Canal Days Festival Committee and the crowd that gathered to watch them!

Over by the Main Stage, a sizeable crowd had gathered for the first ever Faith & Family Night at the New Haven Canal Days Festival on Saturday Night by 6:30 pm.  By 7:45 pm when Mayor Terry McDonald and New Haven Canal Days Entertainment Chair Beth Stauffer (that’s me!) took to the stage to welcome concertgoers to the festival, the crowd had swelled to an estimated 3500-4000 people.  Following the Mayor’s welcome, I welcomed to the stage the Central Lutheran School Chargers to the stage, who made the City of New Haven extremely proud by singing the National Anthem.

Newly signed to Word Label Group, Nashville based husband/wife duo Jodi King and Chris Rademaker of Love & the Outcome performed an amazing 20 minute opening set for the Sidewalk Prophets.  Following Love & The Outcome, I thanked all of our amazing sponsors for their tremendous generosity in sponsoring Faith & Family Night, and asked our friends at the concert to consider making a freewill donation to help make Faith & Family Night a regular feature of Canal Days.  Concertgoers who came from New Haven, Fort Wayne, all over Indiana, and from as far away from Toledo, Ohio, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Western Pennsylvania responded to the call and donated well over $1,000 not including VIP Wristband donations.

Jill Johnston and Ken Church, from Faith & Family’s major media sponsor, WBCL 90.3 FM, took to the stage next to give away some fun freebies,  announce some contest winners, and introduce the featured guests of the evening—from Nashville, Tennessee, the Dove Award winning Contemporary Christian music group, the Sidewalk Prophets.

Truly, it was one of the most amazing nights (and Canal Days Festivals!) that the New Haven community has seen in recent memory.  Perhaps Spike of Spike and the Bulldogs said it best of all on Friday night when he, in his usual jovial manner, tossed his arm around my shoulder and said, “New Haven has gone totally legit now.  I really like what y’all have done with this festival.  You have street cred now with all the other small town festivals in the area.”

The Canal Days Festival marks the one year anniversary of my writing about New Haven, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this:  it’s all about Bulldog Pride here in New Haven.   Promoting Respect.  Fostering Pride.  Inspiring  Excellence.

That’s what we do here.

Call it being legit, or having street cred, or whatever you’d like, but I like to think of it as the week-long festival called Canal Days when our community comes together to celebrate this great city and all of the things we’ve always been about.

I sincerely hope you were a part of the celebration!

POSTED: 06/10/13 at 6:58 am. FILED UNDER: Entertainment, News