Central New York’s ever-variable weather teased us with record-breaking heat and dry conditions this spring—only to be followed by a few weeks of chilly evenings. But it’s safe to say that the best of the summer season is yet to come. Whatever the weather, there is plenty to see, do, learn and enjoy in Onondaga County during the summer. The hardest part may be choosing what to do on any given weekend. And, with nearly everything accessible online these days, you can often do your planning right from your mobile device. Ahhhh, progress!
We could never fit everything happening in the county in this column, but here is a good mix of perennial favorites, family-friendly choices and new ideas to get the summer planning started.
Syracusans love to celebrate the ethnic traditions that recall the city’s diverse origins. The St. Sophia’s Greek Cultural Festival has been growing in popularity in recent years, as interest in Greek culture and food has increased nationwide. The four-day festival is held on the church grounds, 325 Waring Road, DeWitt, June 7 to 10. Details are still forthcoming, but will be posted when available at greekfest.stsophias.org.
One of the most enduring of these annual cultural events is the Syracuse Polish Festival, which will run June 8 to 10 in Clinton Square. Jimmy Sturr, who has won, count ’em—18 Grammy Awards—will again perform on Saturday evening, June 9. But even he can’t outshine the pierogies and other Polish vittles that are staples of the festival. Visit polishscholarship.com for more information.
African-American culture will be celebrated in the Salt City starting on Friday, June 15. A flag-raising ceremony for the Juneteenth Afro-American Cultural Festival is scheduled for 10 a.m. at Syracuse City Hall. Mayor Stephanie Miner will read a proclamation. The festival’s Fun, Food and Family Day will be held on Saturday, June 16, at Spirit of Jubilee Park on South Avenue. The festivities will begin at 2 p.m., following the Visions of Victory Parade, which will start at Dr. King School at noon, and arrive in Clinton Square at 1 p.m.
In addition to the family fun, check out the exhibits at the adjacent Dr. Henry A. Washington Health Pavilion, organized by the Syracuse Black Nurses Association. The pavilion features health-related information provided by local medical professionals. Topics will include blood pressure, blood chemistries, children’s health, obesity, nutrition, exercise, posture screenings, cancer awareness, healthy heart and fitness. For more, go to syracusejuneteenth.org.
There’s a reason why churches are often the center of ethnic pride in our cities: They help maintain traditions. The annual Macedonian Festival at St. George Macedonian Orthodox Church, 5083 Onondaga Road, begins Friday, Aug. 3, from 4 to 11 p.m., continues Saturday, Aug. 4, from noon to midnight, and concludes Sunday, Aug. 5, noon to 7 p.m. Traditional Macedonian goods will be sold, along with a variety of ethnic foods including lamb, kebabs and stuffed cabbage. Traditional beer and Macedonian wine will be available, and folk groups will perform daily. Go to stgeorgemoc.org.
The cultural celebrations continue through July. St. Elias Church, 4988 Onondaga Road, hosts the Middle Eastern Cultural Festival on July 20 from 4 to 10 p.m.; July 21 from noon to 10 p.m., and July 22, noon to 7 p.m. The festival, dating back to 1937, is a mainstay of the local Arabic-speaking community. Enjoy healthy Arabic-inspired dishes like shish kebab, grape leaves, spinach pies and hummus. Entertainment will be provided by the church’s youth groups. More details can be found at sainteliasny.com.
Syracusans love getting their Irish on so much that the annual St. Patrick’s Parade, held in March, is just not enough. So before the summer warmth fades, the Syracuse Irish Cultural Festival celebrates the city’s deep connection to the Emerald Isle. This year’s event, taking place Sept. 7 and 8 in Clinton Square, will feature a top-notch music lineup including the Kansas-based Celtic-pop band The Elders. Although it’s sponsored by Guinness, there is no need to leave the kids at home. On Saturday, the children’s area will feature everything from face painting, to balloon sculptures, to a bounce house. Go to syracuseirishfestival.com for more information.
The Jewish Music & Cultural Festival gets under way Sept. 9 at the Jewish Community Center, 5655 Thompson Road, DeWitt. Now in its 13th year, this free festival features indoor and outdoor music venues to get your klezmer on. A children’s activity tent will feature crafts, games and face-painting. It’s dubbed “a Jewish festival for the whole community.” Go to syracusejewishfestival.com for details.
One of summer’s most popular events, Balloonfest, returns to Jamesville Beach Park, Apulia Road, Jamesville from June 8 to 10. This year’s event—the 33rd—will include local food and craft vendors, amusement rides, a petting zoo, free climbing walls and inflatable amusements. But, the balloons are the main attraction. More than two dozen are expected to be on hand this year, and visitors can chat with the pilots, watch the launches, and see the balloons illuminated during the evenings. Rides are available for a price. The party gets started on Friday from 4 to 11 p.m., continues all day Saturday, from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m., and wraps up Sunday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
When the balloons aren’t in the air, there are still musical acts to keep you entertained. This year’s local highlights include the Electric Chick Magnets, Custom Taylor Band, Turnip Stampede and Kim Monroe & Chris Eves. See The New Times’ Summer Music Directory, page XX, for the complete lineup.
Admission is $10 per day, children 12 and under are free. Sunscreen and lawn chairs are highly recommended. Launch times for the balloons are Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, 6 to 7:30 p.m., and mornings on Saturday and Sunday at 5:30 a.m. (weather permitting). Rides are available on any of the flights, for a fee. Learn more at hotairballoon.com.
Don’t forget to return to Jamesville Beach Park through Aug. 26, to enjoy the 100 feet of beachfront, hiking trails, horseshoes, boat rentals and something known as beach disc golf. There are also trails for dog walking and a 10K run. Go to onondagacountyparks.com for hours and more.
The CNY Pride Festival, celebrating the LGBT community in Central New York, takes place June 16, noon to 5 p.m., at the Inner Harbor Waterfront Park. This year, the event will celebrate “Pride Links Us Together.” The annual kickoff parade will begin at 11 a.m., starting at the Q Center, 627 W. Genesee St., and proceed to the Inner Harbor Waterfront Park, 400 W. Kirkpatrick St. Learn more at cnypride.com.
Speed demons rejoice! June 16 and 17 will also see the return of hydroplane racing on Onondaga Lake. The American Canadian Hydroplane Association will host Race on the Lake at the Willow Bay portion of Onondaga Lake Park, Liverpool, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Drivers will compete in four different classes, achieving speeds of up to 200 mph. About 60 boats are expected to be on hand, including an exhibition of vintage watercraft. In between races, check out the on-shore arts and crafts fair, vendors, and music by local performers Nik Lite (members of Nik and the Nice Guys) and Gridley Paige. A youth martial arts demonstration will round out the event. Ticket prices were still being determined at press time. For more information, visit raceonthelake.com or call 703-9620.
The Empire Brewfest will return to Clinton Square on Friday, July 20, at 5:30 p.m., featuring local and regional brews and live music. This year, it’s paired with the American Barbecue Champsionships, Saturday, July 21, also at Clinton Square. Details, when available, will be posted at empirebrewfest.com.
Long Branch Park, Longbranch Road, Liverpool, is busy all summer long and one of the biggest summer draws is the Great American Antiquefest. This year’s event will run July 20 to 22. More than 200 dealers from the United States and Canada are expected. This festival is generally regarded as a “must go” for antique enthusiasts. Early birds should plan to go on Friday, 9 a.m. to noon; the $20 cost permits re-entry on Saturday and Sunday. The price for the other two days is $7; $8 for both. Kids under 12 are free, but it’s best to leave pets at home. Visit allmanpromotions.com/antique_shows for more details.
There is always something interesting going on at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, 1 Conservation Place (435-8511; rosamondgiffordzoo.org). But the annual Penguin Palooza is widely regarded as a local family favorite. This will be the seventh celebration of the zoo’s most dapper residents, Sunday, July 15, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The evening includes ice cream tastings from local eateries, live entertainment, games and, of course, a chance to visit the penguins and all their zoo-pals. Advance tickets are $15, and $17 at the door.
The zoo’s Asian elephants (we know you know them by name!) Indy, Siri, Romani and Kirina get their day in the sun on Saturday, Aug. 18. The Asian Elephant Extravaganza offers fun and a touch of Asian culture from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The annual Ceremonial Elephant Face Painting demonstration will start the day, and entertainment will include a Muay Thai martial arts demonstration, Bahratanatyam dance performances by Rachel Thomas, Pushpanjali and Alaripu by Samitha Adavikolanu, and an introduction to Indian folk dance. Puppet shows, stories and special activities planned to demonstrate the elephants’ unique abilities will also be included. And, who doesn’t love a good watermelon smash? The event is free with paid zoo admission.
As always, the zoo offers a variety of fun and educational youth programs and weeklong day camps during the summer. Since it is open every day from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., it’s a great place to take the family and fill at least one of those long summer dog days. General admission is $8 for adults, $4 for seniors, $2 for children, and free for those age 2 and under.
Gas prices may be extreme, but local auto enthusiasts will again converge on Long Branch Park in Liverpool on Saturday, June 24, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., for Mopar Madness. Among the country’s largest shows dedicated to Chrysler automobiles, it’s billed as a daylong tribute to pride in ownership and the fun of showing. Participant judging of Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, Desoto, AMC and Jeep models will be held from noon to 1 p.m. Food, beverages and raffles will also be available. A spectator donation of $5 is asked, but children under 12 are free. All spectator admissions collected will benefit the Clark Burn Center of Syracuse at Upstate Medical University. Visit cnymopar.com for more details.
Sometimes, bigger is better. Syracuse Arts Week runs July 27 to 30 (not a full week, we realize) in and around Columbus Circle and will showcase 200 artists from the United States and three other countries. A variety of music, foods and activities are expected to draw more than 50,000 visitors. At the Syracuse Arts & Crafts Festival contemporary artisans and crafters who work in every conceivable medium will sell their wares and compete in a juried event. Learn more at downtownsyracuse.com
The always-art-friendly Syracuse New Times will hold its annual Street Painting contest on Saturday, July 30 (rain date Sunday, July 31). Call 422-7011 to register; or find a registration form at syracusenewtimes.com. On-site registration will begin at 8 a.m., and the drawing will start at 9 a.m. Judging will conclude at 3 p.m.
Arts Week also brings a new festival, the result of the merger of an existing event with something new and different. Stage of Nations Blue Rain ECOfest For a Green Future is slated for Friday and Saturday, July 27 and 28. This festival combines earth-friendly exhibits, Haudenosaunee food, demonstrations, vendors, music, dance, great food and drinks, all at the City Hall Commons courtyard and atrium. As for the “ECO” portion, check out the display of green-technology products and services. Restaurants around the fest will be offering locally produced organic foods and wines. Visit bluerainecofest.org for more information.
Don’t forget the Northeast Jazz & Wine Festival, July 27 to 28, in Clinton Square. Created in 2008 and billed as “the only festival of its kind east of the Rockies,” the fest will combine food, wine and music with family fun. About 22 hours of free live jazz and blues music by local and national artists is planned, including a Scholastic Festival in which local students perform along with national guest artists. Attend wine tastings staffed by experts in the main pavilion, or visit the Mardi Gras Pavilion for New Orleans-style jazz and the World Beat Pavilion for music with a decidedly international flavor. Downtown eateries will be featuring the wines on their menus all weekend. Proceeds will benefit the regional chapter of the American Red Cross. Go to cnyjazz.org for more details.
The M&T Syracuse Jazz Fest hits the big “3-0” this summer, and will be held Friday, June 22, and Saturday, June 23. The event moves to Jamesville Beach Park, Apulia Road, Jamesville, a location well suited for outdoor summer events. The music starts at 3:30 p.m. both days. The headliner at 9:30 p.m. on Friday will be sax symbol Kenny G; Saturday’s lineup will culminate with a set from folk-troubadour Donovan from 8 to 9 p.m., followed by the Average White Band at 9:30 p.m. The fest will conclude with a fireworks display at 11 p.m. For details on other acts, visit syracusejazzfest.com. All shows are free, with no reserved seating—in fact; plan to bring your own.
The New York State Rhythm & Blues Festival continues its mission of preserving, protecting and promoting blues music and culture. Organizers work hard to assemble a lineup that offers fans an opportunity to appreciate one of America’s most traditional art forms in a variety of expressions. This year’s event will kick off Friday, July 13, with performances by Anders Osborne, Johnny Sansone, Mick Hayes, Monkey Junk and Matt Schofield. The music continues Saturday, July 14, with Jimmy Cavallo, Ron Spencer, Deanna Bogart, River City Junction, Mitch Kashmar, Billy Thompson and the Brooks Family Dynasty. On Sunday, July 15, the Kenny Neal Band, Stevie Wolf & Blues Express, the Chris O’Leary Band, Double Barrel Blues Band, Carolyn Wonderland, Soul of Syracuse and the Low Rider Band will be among the performers. Advance-sale passes are $25 and can be ordered online. Single-day passes can be had for $10. Visit nysbluesfest.com.
Last year’s Syracuse Nationals set attendance records, and its organizers—the Right Coast Association of Syracuse—surpassed the $500,000 mark in terms of charitable donations raised during the show’s 12-year history. This year’s event—July 20 to 22 at the New York State Fairgrounds, 581 State Fair Blvd.—will again showcase classics, customs, hot rods and muscle cars from 1980 and earlier. Organizers expect upward of 7,500 cars, 86,000 people and 375 vendors from all across the United States and Canada. This show is among the most widely recognized automotive events in the nation and—according to organizers—is the largest on the East Coast. Grandstand entertainment, fireworks, a charity auction, lawnmower races, a mini-tractor pull, and a dinner dance on Saturday evening from 6 to 9 p.m. are just some of the events planned for this very full weekend. Go to rightcoastcars.com for details.
For a bit of the ol’ influence from across the pond, don’t miss the Central New York Scottish Games and Celtic Festival on Aug. 11 at Long Branch Park, Liverpool. Now in its 71st year, the festival includes traditional Celtic games, food, music and dance—plenty of tartan and, yes, even a few kilts. Advance-sale tickets cost $8, $6 for seniors and $3 for children under 12. Tickets will be available at the gate for $10, $7 and $4, respectively. Call 463-8876 or go to cnyscottishgames.org to learn more.
With all the good eating to be enjoyed at this summer’s festivals, it’s probably a good idea to include some physical activity—be it walking, biking, roller blading or running—in your summer plans. The Swamp Rat Runs, held at Oneida Shores Park, 9400 Bartell Road, Brewerton, and administered by the Cicero-North Syracuse Cross Country team and the Syracuse Chargers Track Club, have been held for 33 years. They take place Saturday, June 16.
Registration begins at 7:15 a.m. and the first run will start at 8:30. There are 5 and 10K options, and a fun run for the kids. For more information on this year’s races, visit swampratrun.com. Plan to stay after the race, or bring the whole family later in the summer for swimming and picnicking at the park. The shallow swimming area off the beach is great for the little ones.
Onondaga County makes staying active easy this summer with the return of Parkway Sundays, July 8, 15, 22, 29, Aug. 5, 12, 19 and 26, from 9 a.m. to noon. Onondaga Lake Parkway, from its junction with Interstate 81 and Park Street to Old Liverpool Road in Liverpool, will be closed to automobile traffic so inline skaters, joggers, walkers and bicyclists can enjoy its 2 miles traffic-free. The kids would love a stop at the Wegmans Playground while you’re there. See parkscalendar.com for details.
Mountain bikers get their dirty day on Sunday, Aug. 5, at the annual Highland Classic Bike Race at Highland Forest Park, Route 80, three miles east of Fabius. The race starts at 8:30 a.m. and will conclude at noon. Call 683-5550 for more information. Can’t make the race? Plan a day of hiking during the summer on the park’s great trail system—they’re not just for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Check it out at onondagacountyparks.com/highland-forest.
If you want to take a ride that will benefit others, participate in this year’s Ride for the Rescue on June 30, at Long Branch Park, Liverpool. Form a team, or collect sponsors yourself in support of the Rescue Mission’s many programs. With a minimum fundraising amount of $100, participants receive a Ride for the Rescue T-shirt, a ticket for lunch after the race and a chance to win some great prizes. There is a course for every level of experience, from a family fun ride, to a 77-mile 125th anniversary ride. There is also a “walk in the park” this year for non-riders. Go to rescuemission.donorpages.com/ride2012 for more information, and to register.
Summer always seems to end too soon. But we Central New Yorkers are lucky enough to host the state’s largest summertime event: the New York State Fair. The 12 days of summer fun will run from Aug. 23 to Sept. 3, at the New York State Fairgrounds, 581 State Fair Blvd. For those who love food, rides, a mind-boggling variety of entertainment options and vendors selling all sorts of items, this is the place. It’s also a great place to see what’s going on in New York in terms of agriculture, education, the arts, entrepreneurship and technology. The Pride of New York exhibits showcase Empire State products. Gates open at 8 a.m. and the exhibit buildings are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and until 9 p.m. Labor Day. The midway is open until midnight.
The music lineups at Chevy Court, where all shows are free with Fair admission, and the Grandstand, where national acts bring their higher-priced shows, are always a draw. See a complete (as of press time) schedule on page 44. Tickets are still a bargain at $10, though locals know it’s best to buy them in advance at a discount. Visit nysfair.org for all the details.
Alliance Bank Stadium and the Syracuse Chiefs will be busy all summer long. So don’t forget to take the family to see some great Triple-A baseball this season. Visit the Chiefs online at syracusechiefs.com or call 474-7833 for schedule information. There are many home games to enjoy throughout the summer, and tickets range from $12 to $20.