By JOSEPH B. NADEAU
WOONSOCKET – Autumnfest Parade coordinators Linda Plays and Tina Go were found helping out at the Autumnfest fundraiser at the Italian Workingmen’s Club on Diamond Hill Road Thursday night but that wasn’t keeping them from final planning for the 10-Division Parade line-up for Monday, Oct. 14.
Most of their work was already done but, as Plays explained, area bands and parade marchers will be signing up right to the kick off of the 35th Annual Autumnfest weekend.
“I get calls from people asking if it is too late to sign up for the parade but it’s never too late,” Plays said. “I’ll be sitting at the table in the Autumnfest trailer Sunday night still putting the parade together,” she said.
The parade is one of the biggest crowd draws of the three-day festival and features just about every high school band in the Northern Rhode Island area, floats put together by area community groups and organizations, and a list of well-known parade performers from around the state and New England.
It all comes together in the Walnut Hill and Woonsocket Plazas on Diamond Hill Road early Monday morning of Columbus Day weekend, Plays said.
“It’s a huge event,” she said. “I am always amazed when I drive up to the plazas at 4:50 a.m. or 5 on Monday morning to see all the lawn chairs lined up along Diamond Hill Road,” she said. The parade spectators go out early to reserve their parade viewing locations and that happens from the plazas and along Diamond Hill Road and Social Street to the Autumnfest grounds at World War II Veterans Memorial State Park.
There is always a bit of mystery over how each division will come together until the marchers actually make their way out on the parade route and this year is no exception.
Area scouting groups and youth organizations are already signed up for the parade, as are the many public safety units known for their loud sirens and sharp color guards and marching units such as Woonsocket High School’s Junior Air Force ROTC Wing and the Rhode Island National Guard.
High School Bands from Mount St. Charles, North Smithfield, BMR, Bellingham, Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket and more will also set out on the parade route, and plenty of state and local celebrities will be spotted as the parade makes its way to World War II Park.
Go, who was tapped by Plays to help out partially because she is a neighbor and often gets pulled into Plays’ projects, said she is confident the parade will all come together just as it always does.
“We never break a sweat that morning because so many things can happen and you have to think quickly,” Go said.
Yes thousands of area people show up to line the parade route and the parade represents a big crowd of its own, but somehow it just works out, Go said. “It’s the coordination that occurs from everyone working together that makes this happen,” Go said.
Go is working to pull together a new highlight for the parade that hasn’t been tried in the past where the floats winning recognition from the parade committee are parked a location near World War Park to allow Autumnfest visitors to see the floats up close and speak with the people behind their creations for a short time after the parade. The option is still being worked on, but Go hopes it can be offered this year if all the details come together.
The theme for this year’s parade is Community Spirit and the co-chairs are asking parade participants to recall the sense of community commitment that percolated through the Main Street area during the city’s recent 125th Anniversary celebration as the focus of their float creations this year.
Plays and Go are also completing arrangements for a headliner band for the 10 Division Parade that should be as exciting as some of the top marching groups presented in the past, they noted.
Autumnfest Steering Committee Chairman Tim Paul said the parade is the biggest draw for the festival on Monday and he is always amazed by the “droves of people you see walking by the entrance to World War II Park as the parade ends.”
“They come from all over northern Rhode Island to see their relatives in the marching bands in the parade and they make their way into the Autumnfest grounds,” Paul said.
For some such as former Mayor Charles C. Baldelli, sitting at a table at the Italian Workingmen’s Club fundraiser with his family and friends, the parade is one of the most favorite things to see during Autumnfest.
“I love the parade. It is a highlight and who doesn’t love to see a marching band go by,” he said.
Baldelli, elected to the first of his two terms as mayor in 1985 when Autumnfest still hadn’t celebrated its 10th Anniversary, said there also is nothing like being a community leader or politician and marching through the crowds. “You just can’t believe the adoration you get. Everybody is friend on that day even in politics and people along the way so gracious. I just hope Autumnfest continues to flourish and there is always a parade,” he said.