Warner Fall Foliage Festival returns after two-year hiatus

  • Photo by Kendra Anthony Photo by Kendra Anthony

  • Volunteers at the Warner Fall Foliage Festival, which returns this weekend after a two-year hiatus. Photo by Kendra Anthony. Courtesy—

  • The Warner Fall Foliage Festival returns this weekend after a two-year hiatus. Photo by Kristen Riley

  • Adam Ventola plays with the bubbles during the bubble party after the Children’s Fun Run at the Warner Fall Foliage Festival last year.

  • Rocket Wren leaps through the air after jumping off her owner Haeleigh Hyatt’s leg at the Warner Fall Foliage Festival on Saturday, October 12, 2019. Hyatt has six dogs with her Aim High Canines out of Manchester and she grew up going to the festival. GEOFF FORESTER

For the Monitor
Published: 10/4/2022 6:21:30 PM

After a two-year hiatus, the Warner Fall Foliage Festival is set to return this weekend.

The 75th annual event will have all the customary details of festivals past — a parade with floats designed on the theme “Fantastical Tales of All Time,” amusement rides, an ice cream eating contest, a 5K, a craft and farmer’s market, and a lineup of New Hampshire-based bands atop the Jim Mitchell Community Park Stage.

“It’s kind of like a sigh of relief. The past couple of years feel like a weird dream. We attempted to do a virtual festival in 2020, but it’s not the same,” said Ben Dobrowski, a WFFF board member who’s managing music acts this weekend. “It’s really about the town, Main Street, the different vendors, the shops, and the atmosphere of the festival that makes it so great. It’s really nice to be able to see it coming back together.”

Ray Martin, president of the Warner Fall Foliage Festival, said the focus this year is to just get it up and running again. Despite the two-year gap, he thinks it’s coming back together nicely. “Everybody from the crafters to the musicians – they’ve been out of work too, for a year and a half, and they’ve come back strong,” Martin said.

One silver lining to the hiatus: the time has enabled improvements to things like the Jim Mitchell Community Park Stage.

“We were able to take that time and implement some of these newer strategies on how we run the stage. We’ve added some new equipment and some things that will make it run much smoother and sound better,” said Dobrowski, who’s also a member of the MainStreet Warner, Inc., board, and manages its summer concert series.

His band, the DoBros, opens the event with country, bluegrass, and rock and roll original tunes and covers. “We’ve had time to work on some new songs. We’ve been writing through the COVID times, and getting to perform those and having everybody hear them is really great,” Dobrowski said.

Many of the musicians performing this week, like Dobrowski, have ties to Warner itself. Mike Stockbridge, who performs Saturday afternoon, actually lives right next to the amphitheater and can often hear concerts from his house. He moved to Warner five years ago with his wife because they wanted to raise their son in a place surrounded by nature, a rural town where everybody knows everybody.

“When we were looking to move, we found an ad on Craigslist for a little house that’s connected to a larger house. We said, let’s go in and see if that’s a good place for us. I had no idea it was right next to the stage – and furthermore, I wasn’t aware that the town had such a rich musical tradition,” Stockbridge said. “We weren’t that familiar with the community and the festival. It’s been a really great thing to look forward to.”

Also scheduled to take the stage are Annie & The Natural Wonder Band, the Mink Hills band, local singer-songwriter Katie Dobbins, the Not Fade Away Band (a local Grateful Dead tribute band), a Kid’s Dance Party, the Luggnuts, Pipes & Drums and the East Bay Jazz Band.

For people who grew up in town, the Warner Fall Foliage Festival is like a reunion, and volunteering with the festival is just what you do. Martin said he’s been involved since first moving here. “You get here, somebody knocks on your door to volunteer for something, and you get hooked in,” Martin said.

The pandemic has made recruiting volunteers a little more difficult, says Beth Lukaitis, the festival’s volunteer coordinator. People want to help but also don’t want to put themselves in the position of contracting COVID. Last year’s event was canceled just weeks before due to the rising Delta variant.

“This year will be interesting. We haven’t had a physical festival in two years. Will we have tons of people, or will they have other things to do that weekend? We have no idea,” Lukaitis said.

In any given year, Lukaitis said there are between 150 and 190 volunteers to manage. Some are die-hard regulars, some are high school students logging their volunteer hours. All proceeds to the event are distributed to the town of Warner and various organizations within it.

Lukaitis will be at the festival all weekend, Friday morning till Monday afternoon, mostly at the volunteer booth. She says it’s worth it to see the community come together. “When we first put out the call for volunteers, there are a couple people I know will sign up within 24 hours,” she said.

This is what Dobrowski loves about the festival, too; it has this classic New Hampshire Main Street feel and air of camaraderie.

“It’s based around volunteerism and helping out your community,” Dobrowski said. “Obviously I want people to come to our music shows and buy stuff from the farmstands but in the grand scheme of things, that’s the essence of the festival, is helping out those community projects.”

The 75th Warner Fall Foliage Festival is Friday, Oct. 7, from 6 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 8, from 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 9, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Parking costs $5 per car. For a full schedule, visit wfff.org.

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