By Melissa Brewer
Warmer weather is finally starting to make an appearance in the city of Rochester and that can only mean one thing. Festival season is upon us.
To kick off a season filled with fun festivals for adults and kids alike, we have the 121st Rochester Lilac Festival. This iconically Rochester festival welcomes spring like no other event in the city with its array of fragrant blooms, lineup of performers, and gathering of food vendors. This year, the festival begins today, May 10, and runs through May 19. The festival grounds in Highland Park will be open from 10:30 in the morning until 8:30 at night every day in that period.
Now that we have the mundane details out of the way, let’s talk about the fun stuff. Read on to find out which events you have to go to and the tasty treats you can’t miss.
One of the biggest draws for the Lilac Festival is right in the name: the lilacs. With about 1,200 plants featuring over 500 varieties of lilacs, anyone coming for the beautiful bushes won’t be disappointed. According to Mark Quinn, superintendent of horticulture for Monroe County Parks, the lilac shrubs are doing wonderfully and the warming temperatures are helping them bloom on time.
There will be plenty of other floral features in Highland Park’s 150 acres of gardens as well. The park’s entrance at South Avenue and Reservoir Drive is home to an annual bloom of tulips, giving visitors a rainbow of colorful flora. You’ll also see plenty of blossoming magnolia trees, azaleas, and pansies while you walk through the park. Whether you’re a member of older generations that dominate gardening participation at 35% or of the younger generations that are showing an increasing interest in the green-thumbed hobby, you’re sure to love these blooms.
A festival wouldn’t be a festival without entertainment that gets you moving and grooving. This year’s Lilac Festival has 70 acts throughout the 10-day run that perform from early in the day until after the sun goes down. The performers are a mix of local and touring musicians, including Yonder Mountain String Band, Nobody’s Marigold, Soul Passenger, and many more. To learn about these artists and the other talented performers participating this year, contribute to Google’s 63,000 searches per second and look up the festival’s lineup for a full schedule.
For those looking for some adult-specific fun, the Special Events Tent will be hosting a couple of alcohol-themed events throughout the festival. There are more than 7,700 wineries across the country, but a select 36 of those local to the Upstate area will make an appearance in the tent on Saturday, May 11 at the Wine Tasting Expo. On the following Saturday, May 18, the tent will house a Craft Beer Expo to showcase the area’s beloved brewmasters.
Don’t worry, the kids won’t be left out of the festival fun. The annual Lilac Parade will be held on Saturday, May 11 and feature over 2,500 participants that range from dancers and costumed characters to marching bands and community organizations. On May 13 and 14, the beloved children’s character Arthur will make an appearance to read books and take photos with the little ones.
With over 40 food and drink vendors, you would probably need all 10 days to eat your way through the festival. One of the surest places to start your festival food tour is with a famous garbage plate from Nick Tahou’s. The Bacon Dog stand will be offering an equally indulgent Peanut Butter and Spicy Jelly Bacon Dog for anyone who’s had their fill of garbage plates over the years.
But who’s really tired of garbage plates? Certainly not us. For dessert, you can try the Rochester Garbage Apple from the NY Apple Factory. This homemade caramel apple is covered with leftover toppings from their other tasty apples, resulting in the same type of delicious hodgepodge that makes a garbage plate. With all of this tasty sugar, be sure to take care of your chompers and follow the recommended twice-a-day brushing. Otherwise, you might be cursing the festival for your resulting toothache and trip to your local dentist.
Dental issues aside, there’s even more food to enjoy at this year’s Lilac Festival. If you’re a part of the 90% of U.S. households that regularly indulge in a sweet, frozen treat and want to do the same at the festival, keep an eye out for a few key vendors and food trucks. Frozen Flavors will have a stand of their own and Kona Ice will be serving their colorful shaved ice this year.
The possibilities for fun are practically endless at the Lilac Festival. Whether you hop from one live performance to another or decide to sample every bit of food from the local vendors, you’re sure to make memories that will last a lifetime. Or at least until next year’s festival.