Long-time WNY Summer Festivals, Then and Now
There’s no doubt about it, summer is festival season in western New York; and it’s been that way for a long time. Some of our most beloved summer festivals have been around for 30, 40, 50, or more years. Many have grown tremendously over the years, from often small and humble beginnings.
Buffalo Greek Fest
Kick off the summer festival season with a little bit of Greek flavor. This annual event, which takes place May 31st and June 1st – 2nd this year, was first held in 1977, when members of the Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation decided to create a festival so that others in the community could learn about the Greek Orthodox faith, Greek culture, and of course, Greek foods.
The festival has grown over the years, from one lowly food truck in the parking lot to a huge tent featuring Greek foods and entertainment, as well as tours of the church and cultural exhibits.
Buffalo Greek Fest, Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, 146 W. Utica (at Delaware Ave.) Buffalo 716-882-9485, www.buffalogreekfest.org, Friday & Saturday 11am-midnight, Sunday 12-9pm. Admission $2, under 12 free.
Allentown Art Festival
Nothing says summer like strolling down Delaware Avenue and looking at unique artwork. The very first “Buffalo Art Fest” was organized in September 1958 by a small group of Allentown business owners to help stimulate business in the neighborhood. About 50 artists participated and 20,000 people attended that first two-day show. The next June, the show, produced by the newly formed Allentown Village Society, began the tradition of holding it the second weekend in June.
The festival grew in size throughout the years, with a jurying process implemented in the 1970’s, ensuring quality artwork. Today the festival is one of the largest outdoor art festivals in the Great Lakes Region, featuring over 450 juried exhibitors, with over 300,000 people expected to attend the two-day event.
Allentown Art Festival, Delaware Avenue and vicinity, Buffalo, www.allentownartfestival.com June 8-9, 11am-6pm daily.
This festival, which began in 1987, celebrates the peaceful bond and friendship between Canada and the United States since the end of the War of 1812. Held from June 28th to July 7th, it encompassing both Canada Day (July 1) and Independence Day (July4). The festival features a number of free events on both sides of the border including concerts, midway rides, and a variety of displays. For a complete list of events, see their website www.friendshipfestival.com
Taste of Buffalo
The Taste of Buffalo, which is celebrating its 30th birthday, is the largest two-day food festival in the country. Started in 1984 on Main Street to bring people back downtown during the Metro Rail construction period, the festival was moved to its present location on Delaware Avenue in 2005.
About 450,000 hungry people are expected to converge on Buffalo the weekend of July 13th -14th. More than 200 different food items will be available and if you’re watching your calories, restaurants are required to offer a healthy menu item as an option. Some of Buffalo’s food trucks will be participating, along with area wineries. Cooking demonstrations, musical entertainment, and interactive activities are all part of the festival.
Taste of Buffalo, Delaware Avenue, Downtown Buffalo, www.tasteofbuffalo.com, July 13 11am-9pm, July 14 11am-7pm, free admission, food tickets are sold in $5 increments, menu items range between $2-4.
Canal Fest of the Tonawandas
This event, which is shared by two cities in two counties, originated in 1983. It was designed to promote downtown businesses in the Tonawandas, to provide a means of fund raising for non-profit organizations, and to promote recreational opportunities to both cities.
Held along the historic Erie Canal, the 8-day event attracts about 250,000 visitors. It is the largest festival of its kind along the canal. The event features carnival rides and games, a giant parade, car cruise, arts & craft show, musical entertainment, lots of food vendors, and much more.
Canal Fest of the Tonawandas, www.canalfest.org, July 14th -21st
Sorrento Cheese Italian Heritage Festival
Enjoy Italian culture, entertainment, and of course food, at this festival, which will take place August 1st - 4th. “The biggest change this year is that we moved our festival to the first weekend in August vs. the second weekend in July,” said Mona Rinaldo, business manager for the festival. “We are continuing and expanding on our theme of “La Familia” (the family). You can look up your family tree, enjoy grape stomping, contests for cannoli stuffing and cheese building, and again we are having two stages for entertainment.”
The Italian festival traces its inspiration to religious festivals that the area’s first Italian immigrants had back in the early 1900’s, with churches serving as the focal point of the celebrations. The Hertel Avenue Italian festival started in 1988. Estimated attendance is around 600,000, making it one of the top 5 largest street festivals in the country.
Sorrento Cheese Buffalo Italian Heritage Festival, Hertel Avenue, Buffalo www.buffaloitalianfestival.com August 1st-4th.
47th Annual Lewiston Art Festival
This festival, Lewiston’s signature event, features over 175 artists and crafters, including painters, sculptors, jewelry makers, photographers, and more. It originally started out as a craft festival held in Academy Park and later moved to its present location on Center Street in the 1970’s.
One of the festival highlights is the chalk walk completion on Saturday featuring talented student artists from local schools. The theme for the chalk walk will be “Forces of Nature: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.”
One of the biggest changes this year is the festival’s focus on “going green.” They will be encouraging environmental awareness by having composting and recycling stations throughout the festival and food vendors will be required to use compostable and recyclable serving items.
Lewiston Art Festival, Center Street, Lewiston, www.artcouncil.org August 10th-11th, 10am-6pm.
174th Erie County Fair
The Erie County Fair, sponsored by the Erie County Agricultural Society, is by far the longest running festival in the area; it has been held every year since 1841 (except 1943 during WWII). Originally held in Buffalo and later moved to Hamburg in 1868, it has grown from a one-day event on 12 acres, to a12-day fair covering 275 acres. It attracts over 900,000 people each year. The famous “Mile-long Midway,” today featuring about 70 rides and 100 games, has been part of the fair since 1924. There is musical entertainment, free demonstration, craft exhibits, and more. And let’s not forget about the fair food; from BBQ chicken to deep fried butter!
Erie County Fair, Hamburg Fairgrounds, www.ecfair.org, August 7th-18th, $10 adult, $7 age 60+, under 12 free. See website for complete fair schedule.