SOUTHINGTON - Under clear blue skies Sunday afternoon, Chris Bennett and his son Liam waited for apple crisp in a line that stretched across the Apple Harvest Festival Parade route on Center Street.
“If we don’t get moving quickly, we’re going to have to go back to our seats,” the older Bennett observed with a smile. “I love the apple crisp.”
Bennett grew up in Southington and was participating in an annual tradition that he has now passed down to his son.
“Probably the apple crisp,” the 6-year-old said when asked his favorite part of the festival. “I had it yesterday.”
Minutes later, the Bennetts and thousands of others lined the streets downtown to watch a quintessential hometown parade, chock full of school bands, fife and drum corps, floats and a guest appearance by Darth Vader.
The 49th annual festival’s first weekend featured a fireworks display, entertainment, rides, the ever-popular Zion Lutheran Church apple fritters and dozens of other vendors selling mouth-watering treats or promoting their businesses.
The festival continues Friday, Saturday and Sunday and will include crafters. For a full schedule of events, visit southingtonahf.org.
Center and Main streets were lined with people standing six or seven deep as the Southington High School Blue Knights Marching Band and the Hatton School “Build Better Minds” float featured dozens of children in yellow hard hats moved past.
The parade lasted close to 90 minutes and featured the marching bands of the town’s schools, fife and drum corps, a police bagpipe band, a band of alumni from bugle and drum corps, and a Christian rock band playing on the Faith Living Church float.
Students from martial arts schools marched down the streets showing their moves. A contingent of characters from the “Star Wars” movies including an imposing but friendly Darth Vader, who waved at children, followed Miss Southington along the route.
“This was the best year yet,” said Southington resident Claudia Bell, who said she has attended the festival all of its 49 years. “They got bands from way out far away. The festival brings it all together. It’s a hometown parade and people come from all over the state.”
A retired local firefighter, her husband, Ken Bell Sr., was marching in his 49th festival parade.
“He’s 79 and he’s never missed a parade,” Claudia Bell said, before pointing across the street at the apple fritter booth run by the Zion Lutheran Church.
“That started with a little homemade fritter machine,” she said. “The people at that church work so hard. That booth will be open all week early in the morning and people will be running over there to get their fritters before going to work.”
The crowd included longtime residents and newcomers, all of whom could choose from a wide selection of food, from the Southington firefighters’ hot dogs with meat sauce and sauerkraut to pumpkin fritters, crab cakes and kettle corn.
Spectators cheered the fire trucks as they rounded the corner from Center Street to Main Street.
“We were going to go to the Big E (Eastern States Exposition, in West Springfield, Mass.) but we figured that would have been a nightmare,” said Mary Anne Dunbar of Wolcott. “We decided to come here. It’s wonderful to see the community come together. I think we are losing that in America. There was lots to see. We’ll come back.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or email@example.com.