Spring weather is here at last, which means it’s finally time to break out your flip flops and head down to the beach! “The beach?” You might be asking yourself. “Before Memorial Day?” The answer is yes, especially if you want to partake in all the fun of Spring Fest, a three day entertainment experience setting up shop on May 11th, 12th, and 13th!
Up through the 1970s, Misquamicut had been known for sand and surf, family friendly fun, and vibrant night life, 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, Executive Director Caswell Cooke 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, we began asking ourselves why we were spending all this energy trying to raise money for a concert in July, when there’s already so many people at the beach” Caswell recounted. “And could we put that energy into something great to draw people in during the off season?”
The president of the MBA at the time was George Tattersol and he was familiar with the ins and outs of the amusement park world. 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 Fall Fest.
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 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.
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,” Caswell explained. “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 Treses, 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.
This year’s Spring Fest will feature a classic car show and entertainment on multiple stages, such as country line dancing, crafts, henna and hair wraps, a clown, a fire juggler, and special guest appearances by Rapunzel and Flynn from Disney’s Tangled.
The Army National Guard will be bringing a rock wall, and the rides and games are provided by Rockwell Amusements, but with a different set up each time to keep things fresh. The ferris wheel is a staple of the event, of course, but if you think you’ve seen it all from atop one, think again. “A ferris wheel’s a ferris wheel, but there’s no other place you can go on a ferris wheel and see Block Island,” Caswell explained.
Make sure you bring your appetite so you can take on the Food Truck Rodeo, boasting “400 Feet of Fantastic Food.” Kenyon’s Grist Mill, the oldest manufacturing business in Rhode Island, will be serving chowder and clam fritters which are not to be missed. Giant subs, sausages, pulled pork barbecue, pizza, shrimp cocktail, fried dough, kettle corn, and gelato will be available, and then you can wash it all down with some Del’s Lemonade!
And of course, the music is still the major draw, with multiple artists spanning the decades from the 60s through the 90s coming together this year. John York of the Byrds will be performing the Ballad of Easy Rider, a classic Americana album from the late 1960s, with the title track having been featured in the hit film Easy Rider starring Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, and Jack Nicholson. Joey Molland of Badfinger will be performing the band’s critically acclaimed album Straight Up along with some of their other hits from the 70s.
John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, a Rhode Island based rock band that went on to achieve mainstream success in the 80s, will be performing some of their hits on Friday. “It’s sort of a homecoming for them,” Caswell shared. “May 11th is the 45th anniversary of their very first concert, which was also in Rhode Island.”
Phil Solem, formerly of the Rembrandts and perhaps best known for performing and co-writing the Friends theme song “I’ll Be There For You,” will be representing the 90s. “There’s nobody on the planet who doesn’t know that theme song,” Caswell said.
Food, music, rides, games – who says it has to be summer time to enjoy the beauty and bounty of Misquamicut? Don’t miss Spring Fest, May 11th, 12th, and 13th!