WESTBROOK – Westbrook Together Days, the festival celebrating community and the unofficial kickoff to summer, features a couple firsts this year and one finale.
The 34th annual event starts on Friday, May 31, at 4 p.m. with a carnival, live entertainment and a slew of new activities, including free kayak and paddleboard rentals at the new Westbrook docks. It’s also the first time the event has ever been held in May, according to Darryl Wright, of the Gorham-Westbrook Chamber of Commerce, which heads up Together Days. It’s traditionally scheduled for the first Saturday in June, which this year is June 1, so the Friday events fall in May.
In its second year is a 5K run on Saturday morning, to raise money for scholarships for the Westbrook High School graduating class of 2014.
“Last year was the first year we did the 5K and the money went to the food pantry and a couple of other good causes. We want to make it an ongoing event with the focus on giving the money to students,” said Wright. “We want to give away $2,500 in scholarships for students graduating next year. It will always be trailing by a year so we’ll be doing it on an ongoing basis. If the run brings in more, we’ll give more in coming years.”
Some in the community already can’t wait for the event to reconnect with family and old friends.
“I always enjoy Westbrook Together Days as an opportunity to connect with the community, to see old friends and neighbors out and about enjoying the festivities,” said Mayor Colleen Hilton. “So many people have mini family reunions around the weekend. I love reconnecting with old friends in the park or along the parade route.”
The carnival has rides and fair games with many nonprofit and community-supported organizations, like the Boy Scouts, operating tents and booths, including a dunking booth that often stars some of Westbrook’s well-known community members. The carnival also includes a petting zoo, pony rides and a moon bounce.
“I love participating with my family, marching in the parade, meeting friends in the park, even the afternoon I spent in the dunk tank [was fun]. It is always a great time to come together,” said Brendan Rielly, City Council president.
After serving 11 years on the planning committee and four in charge of the whole event, Wright is stepping down after this year to focus his attention on the Gorham Founders Festival, an event closer to where he and his family live. The chamber has taken charge of the festival, which the town of Gorham had run.
“This will be my last year on the committee. I’ve been a part of it for 11 years and it’s a great committee. They’ll keep things going and it’s just time,” Wright said. “The last few years have been very stressful with the events [Westbrook Together Days and Gorham Founders Festival] on sequential weekends.”
Wright said during Together Days he’s usually busy with the other volunteers keeping things running smoothly, but he always takes the time to enjoy one of his favorite activities: listening to Rick Charette and the Bubblegum Band with his kids.
“That usually draws a big crowd. It’s the one hour I get to sit with the kids and we all know all the songs and they know all the dances. We really enjoy that,” Wright said.
Charette said coming to Together Days is special to him because he grew up in Westbrook and went to school less than 100 yards away from the site of the event.
“The whole environment and atmosphere, especially on a sunny day, is so nice. Last year when it rained, it didn’t dampen spirits, but it’s not as much fun as when it’s sunny out,” Charette said.
Wright said there will be tarps and tents up if it rains again this year, but he’s optimistic that all the rainy weather lately will hedge the chances for a sunny weekend.
Saturday’s annual parade along Main Street steps off at 10 a.m., led by Malcolm Noyes, the grand marshal.
He is a former city councilor and Westbrook Housing Authority commissioner and father of Hilton.
“I know his many, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be lined up along the parade route hoping for a wave and maybe a piece of candy being tossed from Grampy Noyes,” said Hilton.
An auction will be held after the parade, starting at noon. Wright said the chamber is on track to receive more than $10,000 worth of donated items that include hotel stays, Boston Celtics tickets, gift certificates for Funtown Splashtown, massages and restaurants and more.
But the biggest draw of the weekend is the half-hour fireworks show, sponsored again this year by Idexx.
Wright said planning for Together Days starts in December when a group of chamber members begin the scheduling and arranging for the big weekend.
“Right now we’re just trying to make sure we didn’t overlook anything. I’m checking to make sure all the stuff is printed and done so we can go all out setting up,” he said.