“This position has been on-the-job training,” said Van Schaack, who was named executive director in the spring. “I was fed to the wolves, so to speak. I got here in April and I’ve been going nonstop ever since. There’s a lot of work for a five-day festival.”
Those five days this year are Thursday, July 23, to Sunday, July 26. Since Van Schaack has had just a few months to take control of one of the largest summer festivals in Central New York—estimates place attendance over the run at nearly 300,000—not much will have changed from last year. Except. . .
“We are putting more of the water back into Harborfest,” he noted. “It had gotten inland somewhat. What people will see is that every venue will have some sort of water-related view, or a waterfront location, from Breitbeck Park down to Fort Ontario. There will be no Port Authority or East Side event locations, because of homeland security issues.”
That means the arcade and amusement rides have been moved to Lake Street below Breitbeck Park. “For us it’s a great location,” Van Schaack said. “The West Side is going to be a hopping place. A lot of people will have to get used to the location; it’s in a semi-residential area. We’ve addressed the concerns of the residents. It’s a very important year for us for the amusement rides—we have to make money at the midway—and it’s a great location. We don’t want to give anybody a reason to question where we put it this year.”
Visitors will also find the children’s and family activities at Fort Ontario, with the children’s parade taking place Friday, July 24, at 11 a.m. from East Park, down Fourth Street, to the fort. The seniors’ concert will be at the fort this year, Sunday at noon. And arguably the best fireworks in Central New York will illuminate the harbor starting at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 25. “Probably 100,000 people alone will drive to Oswego just for the fireworks,” Van Schaack noted.
And he would know: Van Schaack is from Oswego and understands how important Harborfest is to the Port City, and how popular it’s been these last 22 years. As a native he is quick to defend the unfounded reputation of Harborfest as a big, midsummer reason to drive to Oswego, get drunk and rowdy, and then drive home. “That’s very unfair,” he said, “because there’s only one location that alcohol is even served, and that is the Lakeview Café in Breitbeck Park. You can’t buy any wine, liquor or beer anywhere at Harborfest except at this 20-by-40-foot tent.
“This is a great festival for Oswego and Central New York, but after visitors leave our venue we’re not responsible for what they do,” he continued. “They can’t carry beers and mixed drinks that they purchased at Harborfest around the streets of Oswego. I think that’s a misconception that a lot of people have.”
This year’s musical headliner is Micky Dolenz, formerly of the Monkees, an American made-for-TV counter to the Beatles. He will be performing at Breitbeck Park on Friday at 9:30 p.m. And since it is Harborfest, the 199-foot tall ship Niagara will grace the city’s west pier. For a complete festival schedule, visit www.oswegoharborfest.com, or call 343-6858. Admission to the festival is free, but you’ll need to pay for food, beverages and amusement rides. “This week, it’s the extended forecast that I will be looking at,” Van Schaack said. “The weather is the only thing that we can’t control.”