'Fighting cancer' theme helps build excitement

ARKPORT — This weekend’s Arkport Summerfest is shaping up to be one of the most highly anticipated in the annual festival’s three-decade history.

Color the organizers thrilled.

The July 12-14 Summerfest won’t stray far from the tried and true traditions that have proved popular over the decades. The Friday night Block Party, the Saturday morning 5K Run and Walk and the Boy Scouts pancake breakfast, the parade at 11 a.m. followed immediately by the festival in the park with games, vendors and music, all leading up to Saturday’s grand finale, the fireworks show at dusk. All those happenings are returning.

As are Sunday’s non-denominational Church Service, the fire department’s chicken barbecue and the annual Chemung Valley Region Antique Automobile Club of America Car Show in the park. The second day of the festival in the park will be available as well.

So if there are no big changes in the schedule of events, what’s driving the documented increase in social media postings about Summerfest? What’s responsible for the surge in traffic to the Summerfest Facebook page and the extra chatter at the Post Office and in the bank?

Bill Robinson, Arkport Summerfest Committee chair, said this year’s theme, “Arkport Summerfest Fights Cancer In All Colors,” has caught on with the community and has helped give the event a big boost heading into the weekend.

“We have received lots of positive feedback from the community, and the number of (social media) posts have blown the previous years’ postings right out of the water,” Robinson told The Spectator on Wednesday.

Robinson said fighting cancer is a universal unifier, a theme that brings together survivors, family members, friends of cancer patients, caregivers, and those left behind each time cancer claims another life. “In all colors” is representative of different types of cancer and each stage of the process — the battle with the disease, the survivors, and those who have lost the fight.

Robinson said each member of the Summerfest Committee has been impacted in some way by cancer, whether it was personally, through a family member or through a friendship. That fact came to mind earlier this year when committee members were brainstorming ideas for the festival’s 2019 theme.

“I threw out the theme, ‘Summerfest sticks it to cancer,’” Robinson admitted. He said the committee stuck with the idea, but the group came up with a catchier and more appropriate slogan.

The theme will touch every aspect of the weekend activities, including the Summerfest staff T-shirts bearing the bright “Fight Cancer In All Colors” logo and ribbon (the shirts can be purchased by the public with the proceeds going to cancer research; contact a committee member) and the parade which will feature participants and floats outfitted to match the theme.

The “Summerfest Fights Cancer In All Colors” theme seems particularly relevant this year as one of Arkport’s most well-known individuals — multi-term Mayor Charlie Flanders — has waged a courageous battle with esophagus cancer. In June, Flanders completed his 28th and final radiation treatment after he had already undergone an initial surgical procedure to allow him to eat, and approximately eight sessions of chemotherapy.

“Charlie is going to be in the parade,” Robinson said. “He reached out to us after he heard the theme and wanted to be involved.”

To be fair, It’s not all business as usual for this edition of Summerfest. The event is taking place a weekend later in the month this year, allowing some time to pass between the conclusion the Fourth of July holiday and the first night of Summerfest. Organizers believe that will benefit overall attendance. Another change is live music at the park gazebo starting on Friday night. Summerfest tunes are usually provided by a DJ, but live music will continue all day Saturday and during the day on Sunday, with several different bands slated to perform.

Even before the start of the festival, the Summerfest Committee has experienced some tangible benefits from the “Fighting Cancer In All Colors” theme. Robinson said a couple of groups associated with Summerfest have already made monetary donations for cancer research, while other organizations have indicated that they will be donating to the effort during the event.

Robinson is hoping the pre-festival excitement translates into big crowds showing up for Summerfest events over the weekend.

“We are getting a lot of support and positive feedback on the theme choice,” he said. “We are excited for the weekend.”

Color him hopeful.