LEOMINSTER — For nearly three decades, thousands of people have gathered in downtown Leominster on an early fall Saturday to celebrate perhaps the city’s most famous native.
This year, a local musician who will soon receive national attention will be among them.
The 29th annual Johnny Appleseed Arts and Cultural Festival on Saturday (rain date Oct. 1) will feature a performance at 10 a.m. by Cara Brindisi, a singer-songwriter from Worcester competing on the new season of NBC-TV’s “The Voice.”
Her show, a special tribute to families helped by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, will include a special guest.
There will be music all day as well, from the festival’s start at 9 a.m. through its closing at 5 p.m.
On the main stage in front of City Hall will be the Leominster High School chorus from 9 to 9:30 a.m.; the Leominster High Marching Band from 9:30 to 9:50; 2019 Leominster High School graduate Jimmy Kran from 9:50 to 10; the Leominster-based International Veterans Chorus from 11:15 to noon; a Celebration of Community with special guests from noon to 12:20; the Johnny Appleseed Big Band (with conductor Bob Healy) from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.; The Full Monty from 3 to 5 p.m.; and soloist Rachele Celli with a Disney Tribute from 4:05 to 4:10 p.m.
A second stage will be set up in front of the Christian Life Center, at the corner of Merriam Avenue and Main Street, with artists performing throughout the day.
Plenty of food
Food is a big part of the festival, with around 20 vendors offering sweet and savory items alike. That includes the First Baptist Church, which has been serving apple crisp from the beginning.
“Recently, they have lost some of their team who were there for us day one,” festival coordinator Rick Marchand said. “As I pass by their booth Saturday morning, I will remember those smiling faces no longer with us. Let their hearts and souls shine on.”
Marchand, who has been part of the Johnny Appleseed Festival for 25 of its 29 years, said it has grown a lot since the early days.
“It’s really changed, to the tune that we now have two stages instead of one,” he said on Leominster.TV earlier this month. “We have two other musical stations with disc jockeys. Just last year we had about 85 vendors, and we’re going to be close to 200 vendors this year. So that’s absolutely amazing.”
Many of those nearly 200 vendors are based in the community, from student organizations at Leominster High and local crafters to nonprofit agencies such as Make-A-Wish (which is holding a raffle during the festival), MassHire North Central, the state Department of Transitional Assistance, the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, and Leominster Emergency Management.
The Johnny Appleseed Festival is held the weekend nearest the birthday of Leominster native John Chapman, born Sept. 26, 1774. Chapman is credited with introducing apple trees to the Midwest and the Canadian province of Ontario.
Johnny Appleseed himself
Johnny Appleseed is going to be at the festival, too.
Admission and parking, along with the fee for nonprofit and charitable vendors to take part in the festival, are all free, thanks to support from local businesses.
The only cost, besides anything bought at one of the vendor tables or booths, is a $10 donation for an all-day pass to the Parking Lot Party, held in the parking lot on West Street across from the common at Monument Square.
The pass will offer access to face painting, a Lost Jungle Obstacle Course, Blast Off, Wrecking Ball, Disney Princess, Star Wars, Paw Patrol, World of Disney, Disney Cars, dancing for fun with Heidi Hogan’s Dance Team, and take a photograph with a cell phone camera with a caricature.
Families that buy a pass for the Parking Lot Party will also get coupons for a meal deal at the Leominster Rotary Club food booth in the food court.
The festival teamed up with local businesses to make the meal deal happen. Sponsors are providing a donation to the Leominster Rotary Club, which will then be donated to the Mayor’s Fuel Assistance Program. Life Care Center of Leominster is providing all of the food.
“Isn’t that amazing?” Marchand said. “We’re just so fortunate to have such wonderful people.”
For more information on the Johnny Appleseed Arts and Cultural Festival, go to its Facebook page.
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Cara Brindisi to perform at Johnny Appleseed Festival in Leominster