Summer events will be booming (even if city’s July 4th fireworks won’t be)

Downtown Harrisonburg will host some major events later this summer. (File photo)

By Bridget Manley, publisher

While the usual Friendly City Fourth of July event and fireworks display in Harrisonburg are cancelled for the second consecutive year, other annual festivities will return this summer.

Here’s The Citizen’s guide to major events and festivals: 

July 4th Weekend

Just because the city’s official fireworks won’t go boom doesn’t mean the weekend will be a bust. 

VA Momentum will hold its annual Valley Fourth Run in person this year (instead of organizing a virtual race in which runners go off on their own). This will mark the race’s 10th year. 

Keeping COVID in mind, VA Momentum will have a dispersed start this year. The course will be open from 8-11 a.m. this Saturday. Runners can begin their runs anytime between that window but must be finished by 11 a.m. Runners can also choose their distance: 1.5 miles, 5K or 10K, and they are offering a virtual option for anyone in the world. 

Massanutten Resorts will host its annual Summer Jam in person this year, with food trucks, music and fireworks on Saturday, although tickets are required. 

Brothers Craft Brewing will host a July Fourth event from noon-10 p.m. Saturday, and the town of Luray is holding July Fourth festivities on Sunday. The event will feature food trucks, two stages featuring live music and fireworks at 9:15 p.m.

Decisions about Harrisonburg’s Friendly City Fourth of July event, which is co-sponsored by Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and the city, needed to be made in February, according to Jennifer Bayes, events and special projects manager at Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance.

And because COVID-19 infection numbers were high and the rate of those who were getting vaccinated were low at that point, organizers opted to be cautious. 

“It’s a competitive date with the pyrotechnics company, and we had to make a decision early,” Bayes said. “It was obviously disappointing.” 

But the city and Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance are seeking to make up for it by planning a major downtown festival for Labor Day Weekend called BEST.WEEKEND.EVER. 

BEST.WEEKEND.EVER on Labor Day weekend

“We knew that we wanted to do an event for Labor Day, because we thought that by September, things would be a little more normal,” Bayes said. 

The weekend-long event will kick off Friday, Sept. 3, featuring various arts and music, as well as salsa dancing in the pavilion.

On Saturday, Sept. 4, the streets downtown will close, allowing for people to walk through to take in art-related events, go on tours of buildings, participate in “make and take” activities for the kids, and browse businesses’ sidewalk sales. It will culminate with fireworks at 8:30 p.m. from Westover Park.  

Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance will also take advantage of a new law that goes into effect July 1 that allows for people to carry alcoholic beverages through in specified areas outside. 

The law creates “designated outdoor refreshment area” that can consist of several blocks, which would make most — or all — of BEST.WEEKEND.EVER’s festivities within the “open container” area. 

Organizers plan to have a music walk Saturday evening, with musicians on every corner. 

“People will be playing music, and you can just stroll around downtown with a drink in your hand and listen to music from local artists,” Bayes said. 

The family friendly event will feature a kid zone, sponsored by the Explore More Discovery Museum and OASIS Fine Art and Craft. The kid zone will be located in the parking lot across from the museum and will feature sand art, face painting, bubble stations, play areas, film canister rockets and kaleidoscope crafts.

Barbara Camph with OASIS said she is excited for more people to come back to downtown to celebrate. 

“We had a Celebration of Local Art planned for October 2020 but were unable to host it.  In my mind, this is the replacement celebration and more,” Camph said. “We are all ready to have a real celebration!”

Bayes said holding a weekend celebration is important to bringing the community back together and getting people back to downtown businesses, many of which were hit hard by the pandemic — not to mention being a celebration of “we got through this.” 

“We are hopeful that it will be a really great revenue weekend for the downtown businesses, and a great celebration for the people in Harrisonburg,” Bayes said.  

Photo courtesy of Red Wing Roots Music Festival

Red Wing Roots Music Festival

After cancelling the festival last year, the Red Wing Roots Music Festival is back. 

The event, from July 9-11 at Natural Chimney State Park, will feature nearly 50 bands and musicians. 

Michael Weaver, managing partner with Red Wing, said what usually takes a year to plan had to be done in just a few months because of the uncertainty. 

“Once the governor announced he was going to lift all the different regulations, it really started becoming clear that we could have this,” Weaver said. “At that point we went full steam into meetings to plan.”

Organizers said they feel comfortable about vaccines and current COVID numbers, but they limited the total amount of people they would be allowing to attend this year.

Otherwise, they plan to hold the 9th festival much like those in the past, although Weaver did allude to a few surprises in the works over the weekend. 

“We try to bring some new delights and new surprises each year,” Weaver said. “Our goal, as we work on the planning year-round, we always try to think, ‘what is going to be new and special this year?’”

Weaver said he is ready to celebrate live music and togetherness again but is feeling a lot of emotions about being with other people. 

“I’m nervous. There is still some anxiety there, but really a deep down joy and excitement,” Weaver said. “I think it’s going to be a super special year. As we come out of the pandemic, we are all re-learning to do so many things. And so, we are all going to get together and re-learn what it means to be at the Red Wing Roots Music Festival together.”

The Shenandoah Valley Pride festivities typically bring many people to downtown Harrisonburg. (File photo)

Other annual events in the works

Organizations are in still the planning phases of other major events for the fall, such as Shenandoah Valley Pride and the International Festival.

The Shenandoah Valley Pride Alliance has tentatively scheduled Pride for Saturday, Sept. 18. Organizers with Pride said they will hold a board meeting this week to firm up the date, as well as other event details. 

Plans for the Harrisonburg International Festival, usually held in September in previous years, are still in the preliminary stages, according to Karen Lawrence, Communications & Outreach Consultant for the FairField Center & Harrisonburg International Festival.

Lawrence said they still haven’t determined the festival’s date or format and are still in negotiations for a location. Last year, the event was virtual and featured online classes and talks from residents.

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