If you think that the joys of Misquamicut must end at Labor Day, think again! Join in on the food, fun, and festivities for a three-day family-friendly entertainment experience at the annual FallFest September 13-15!
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Up through the 1970s, Misquamicut had been known for sand and surf, family-friendly fun, and vibrant nightlife, but it hit a rough patch during the 80s and 90s. Enter the Misquamicut Business Association, revived in the early 2000s, with its mission to help restore the suffering reputation of the beach and town.
In 2005, the Misquamicut Business Association put on a free beach concert with Davy Jones of the Monkees as the headliner. This quickly became an annual endeavor, with Jefferson Starship, former American Idol contestants, Jan and Dean, and other musical acts of the 60s and 70s putting on stellar performances.
Over time, though, they began asking themselves why they were spending all this energy trying to raise money for a concert in July, when there’s already so many people at the beach. Couldn’t they put that energy into something great to draw people in during the off-season?
The president of the MBA at the time was George Tattersall and he was familiar with the ins and outs of the amusement park world and had fond memories of a carnival at Dunns Corners taking place during his childhood. He suggested they continue bringing in musical acts but with the addition of rides, food vendors, and other performers and forms of entertainment. So the Misquamicut Music Festival morphed into a semi-annual three-day extravaganza in 2011 – the birth of both Spring Fest and FallFest.
The hope was to extend the season two weeks in both directions. “Most people seem to think we open some kind of a gate that we unlock on Memorial Day weekend and then a chain goes up over the town of Westerly right after Labor Day, but we’ve been trying to show that there’s life before and after,” Caswell Cooke, executive director of the Misquamicut Business Association, said. By extending the season and encouraging visitors to make a whole weekend out of the experience, the MBA has helped to fill hotel rooms, fill seats at local restaurants, and increase employment opportunities.
“Everything works in unison, and the more draws we have to bring people to the area, the better,” Chris Dipaola, MBA member and owner of local radio station WBLQ, said. “There are a few ways to enter Westerly, but we’ve got great signage all over and people can’t help but be curious about what else is going on beyond the beach. I say this as a business owner, too. I interview people as they come in to the fair and so many of them want to explore the whole area. We’ve had such an incredible revitalization over the last eight years, with new restaurants, attractions, and events.”
Putting together a semi-annual festival on this scale is a major undertaking that no one person could make happen on their own.
“We have an amazing Board of Directors,” Cooke said. “Nobody sees the garbage cans being set up, or the electrical inspection or the ride inspection, or the laying of water lines. It’s truly a group effort and requires many volunteer hours.”
For example, Charles Trefes, current President of the MBA as well as owner of the Windjammer, the original Dusty’s, and the nearby merry-go-round, volunteers his whole crew for the week to help with the set up and breakdown.
The fair taking place in the parking lot, rather than directly on the sand, helps make it a rain or shine event. “It’s become such a beloved annual tradition that when the weather is bad, it doesn’t drive people away,” Dipaola explained. “One year Christopher Cross was performing during a monsoon, the temperature was in the 50s, and people still came.”
Some highlights for this year’s musical entertainment include performances by Tom Wopat, best known by some as Luke Duke from the Dukes of Hazzard, as well as John Ford Coley. Coley was once partnered with the late England Dan and together they six Top 40 hits in the late 1970s, including the yacht rock classic I’d Really Love to See You Tonight.
Every year is a little different, but you’ll typically find car shows, country line dancing, crafts, henna and hair wraps, fire jugglers, mimes, magicians, clowns, and a rock wall to keep you entertained for hours. Rockwell Amusements comes with a different set up each year, but always including the beloved Ferris wheel.
A Ferris wheel is a Ferris wheel, but there’s no other place you can go on a Ferris wheel and see Block Island from the top!
A caravan of food trucks will feature delicious snacks of all kinds, including with giant subs, sausages, pulled pork barbecue, pizza, shrimp cocktail, fried dough, kettle corn, and gelato, and then you can wash it all down with some Del’s Lemonade! This year will also offer a beer and wine tent for the first time on festival grounds, so you can relax and enjoy on a whole other level.
Food, drinks, music, rides, games – who says it has to be summertime to enjoy the beauty and bounty of Misquamicut? Come down to FallFest this September and make the magic last a little longer!