MERIDEN — Raw, wet and windy festival weather that caused band cancellations and weak attendance has the Daffodil Committee revisting efforts to move the festival weekend to May.
“This was the worst weather, and the weather was horrendous,” co-chairman of the Daffodil Festival committee Mark Zebora told the Record-Journal Sunday. “The weather killed the live performances that we had scheduled for this weekend.”
Daffodil Festival co-chairman Ric Suzio said as of Wednesday the bus companies hadn’t yet provided a count of all the people shuttled into Hubbard Park on Saturday and Sunday. But organizers know the numbers will be anemic.
Zebora called it the worst washout since 1991.
Zebora said the parade on Saturday, that normally draws 500 to 600 people performing, had only about a third of that.
“The high school bands couldn’t come out because they didn’t want their uniforms damaged, and the weather was just a huge disappointment,” Zebora said. “The last time we had a terrible weekend like this was 1991 when it rained out the entire weekend.”
The festival commitee this past January was considering changing the date of the festival weekend when it posted a survey on social media seeking public opinion about hosting the event in May. The festival committee, comprised of 22 members, voted unanimously for the change, Suzio said.
The committee provided compelling arguments for the date change. The temperatures are warmer, so even if it does rain, it’s not likely to be a cold, windy raw rain that fell on Saturday. The festival can bump up against Cinco de Mayo and the Kentucky Derby leading to more interesting parade costumes, food, beverages and craft items. And the daffodils are rarely still in bloom by the last week of April during past festival weekends.
“The daffodils are usually gone by the first week of April,” Suzio said. “There are very few years the daffodlls are at peak. Maybe last year, but not normally. They’re usually past peak.”
Suzio said that even with a new date, the festival would keep the name and the public would “still be celebrating the daffodils and the beauty of the park. Little Miss Dandelion doesn’t sound quite the same as Little Miss Daffodil.”
But the poll on social media indicated that the public didn’t agree with the decision to move the festival.
Responding to public opinion, the Daffodil Festival Committee posted this message to social media on Jan. 12:
“We have heard your feedback: the festival will be held on the last weekend in April as it has traditionally been,” according to the post. “Although we would like to explore moving the festival to May where it is statistically warmer and better weather, we understand that a change like that takes a lot of thought and planning. We will explore that option for future festivals, but for now… see you in April!”
But public opinion wasn’t the only factor in its decision to stick with the April festival date this year.
According to Suzio, the festival committee checked with festival stakeholders such as the city and the Midstate Chamber of Commerce, which hosts its annual Business and Community Expo under a tent on the tennis court on both days.
“The Midstate Chamber of Commerce is grateful for the partnership we’ve had with the festival, taking on the coordination and execution of the Business & Community EXPO Tent, for close to 20 years,” said chamber President Rosanne Ford. “This past weekend we welcomed over 25 businesses and non-profits into the big tent on the tennis courts, and in spite of the weather, traffic was steady through the weekend. The tent is heated, so our vendors were comfortable and attendees had a spot to duck out of the inclement weather and dampness.”
According to Suzio, the city and chamber had no conflicts with moving the date, but the Meriden Board of Education had several. Moving the festival to the first weekend in May would impact the junior proms scheduled for both Platt and Maloney High Schools, and moving it later into the month would start “bumping up against senior proms, graduations, and other end-of-year events.” The prom conflict stems from Hubbard Park being a popular spot for prom pictures and several hundred high school students in prom attire gaining access to the waterfall or the gazebo during a crowded festival would present a significant challenge.
But changing the date of the city’s junior prom at both high schools is also no easy feat.
“Dr. (Mark) Benigni spoke to Ric Suzio in regards to this situation today. We are glad to meet with the Daffodil Committee, and we have reached out to our schools to get any prom dates that have already been scheduled,” Board of Education President Robert Kosienski Jr. stated in an email on Wednesday. “Unfortunately we cannot control the weather and changing the dates for next year will not guarantee a sun-filled weekend. There are limited prom venues and dates available as we need a total of four for our district. I look forward to working with the committee.”
Ford, of the Chamber of Commerce, said her organization would support a date change provided it was well in advance and planned thoroughly.
“This is especially important for the Chamber for the expo component, but also for the non-profits that are historically part of the food tent, for example,” Ford stated in an email. “Each element of the festival relies heavily on volunteer participation, so it’s key to decide as early as possible on a date and communicate it effectively to all parties involved. There are additional considerations including: availability and costs associated with the mammoth size tents.”
Ford agrees that moving the date into May adds other concerns including possible impact on proms and graduations.
“Hubbard Park has become THE SPOT for photo ops,” Ford stated. “Certainly, the other concern is always the ‘star of the show’ – the daffodils!”
Mother Nature also impacts the timing of the blooms, Ford said, agreeing with Suzio that due to the unusually warm weather earlier in April, the peak of daffodil viewing occurred well before the festival.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department is looking into the possibility of planting late blooming daffodils that would be in full glory by mid-May, according to Zebora.
“We would be in favor of a change, but again there is a lot to consider and the decision really needs to be made 9-12 months in advance of the event for proper planning,” Ford stated.
Suzio said the committee will likely meet in the next two weeks to review last weekend’s data and discuss changing the dates.
“We are looking at all options,” Zebora said.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati said relying on the weather is always a risk when planning outdoor events but he wants to see the many non-profits who sold food in the food tent suceed in their fundraising efforts.
“This (upcoming) weekend looks nice, but two weeks ago we had sun and warm temperatures,” Scarpati said. “This event isn’t possible without the volunteers that pull everything together. I have to yield to our volunteers and work alongside them to make it as successful as possible. There will be some logistics to work through.”