NEW BEDFORD — The world awoke to a sunny and unseasonably warm Tuesday morning on March 10, 2020.
But for Dan McCarthy, it was a dark day.
Early in the afternoon, the New Bedford Half Marathon’s race director was forced to announce that the city’s largest annual sporting attraction would not take place five days later.
Within the next 24 hours the NBA had shut down, travel to Europe was banned and the World Health Organization had officially declared a pandemic.
“The whole world changed that week,” McCarthy said. “It was tough.”
Now, 23 months later, you can hear his smile through the phone line as McCarthy proudly proclaims: “The race is on.”
He waits just a beat before continuing.
The 2022 edition of the Half Marathon is just one of several tentpole events on the New Bedford calendar planning a triumphant return this year. On May 22, the Taste of SouthCoast will be back at Pier 3, according to Tim Murray of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. On July 9-10 the city’s downtown will host the 25th New Bedford Folk Festival, and from Aug. 4-7 the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament is slated to return to Madeira Field for the first time since 2019.
The Cape Verdean Recognition Parade is also back on schedule for this summer.
Due to COVID-19, the event was limited to a Car Caravan last July. However the full parade is returning this summer for the recognition committee’s 50-year anniversary, said Parade Committee Chair Diane Gomes.
Planners are looking to add more activities this year, she said, noting that details are still in the works. What is known is that the parade is scheduled to step off from Buttonwood Park at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 2, Gomes said.
“We’re looking to make this the most exciting parade that we’ve had.”
“I’m very excited,” said Feast President Rick Fernandes. “I’d say it’s going to happen this year. We’re very confident there is going to be a Feast.”
“It really can’t be understated what a relief and what a joy it is to finally be presenting live performance and fulfilling our mission,” added Rosemary Gill, executive director of the Zeiterion, which manages the Folk Festival.
Alan Korolenko and his wife, Helene, have been programming the Folk Festival since its inception in 1996, back when it was Summerfest on the State Pier, so waiting two extra years to hold the 25th event was excruciating.
“It’s really invigorating to be booking it and putting the performers together,” Korolenko said. “It’s just a wonderful thing to think of the people coming back.”
From a public health perspective, the Mayor’s Office is cautiously optimistic that these events will proceed as scheduled.
“We’re excited about the possibility of the return of outdoor events, as we continue to observe sensible public health precautions,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said. “The City’s traditional events help create a sense of community and connectedness, which are more important than ever right now.”
Upcoming events schedule
New Bedford Half Marathon
- When: 11 a.m., Sunday, March 20
- Where: Starts and finishes in front of City Hall
- Attendance: Free for spectators
- Website: NewBedfordHalfMarathon.com
Taste of SouthCoast
- When: May 22
- Where: Pier 3
- Attendance: Tickets will go on sale soon
- Website: TasteofSouthCoast.com
Cape Verdean Recognition Parade
- When: July 2
- Where: Parade steps off at Buttonwood Park
New Bedford Folk Festival
- When: July 9-10
- Where: Downtown New Bedford
- Attendance: Tickets ($30-$135) available online
- Website: NewBedfordFolkFestival.com
Feast of the Blessed Sacrament
- When: Aug. 4-7
- Where: Madeira Field
- Attendance: Free
- Website: FeastoftheBlessedSacrament.com
McCarthy said he’s confident that city government won’t stand in the way.
“We’ve heard nothing but support,” he said. “The city has been wonderful, reaching out to offer as much support as possible.”
The return of large, outdoor gatherings began last summer with the Whaling City Festival, which ran July 8-11 and was followed by a three-week span in which COVID hospitalizations at St. Luke’s remained between five and six. This past winter marked the return of the Christmas Tree lighting in front of the downtown library and the New Year’s Eve fireworks on the waterfront.
The Half Marathon Committee was forced to cancel its 2021 race in October 2020, knowing it was extremely unlikely the race would be allowed under the Massachusetts Re-Opening plan.
“The world was different a year ago,” McCarthy said. “The environment wasn’t ready for us to be back.”
The Folk Festival waited until Feb. 3 to call off its 2021 weekend, and Clube S.S. Sacramento Inc. held out until late April before postponing the 106th Feast.
“Helene made some calls to some agents and performers, so we were ready,” Korolenko said. “We were prepared and ready and, of course, it was not to be.”
Minor changes as events return in 2022
As New Bedford’s biggest outdoor gatherings return, they expect to do so with minimal alterations.
The Taste of SouthCoast is working on updating the event to allow for better flow, both for public health and to make the event more enjoyable.
“We are excited to bring this event back,” Murray said, noting all money raised goes back into local communities through the charitable endeavors of the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick.
Runners in the half marathon will need to provide proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test within 72 hours of the race to participate. As of now, there will be no in-person race registration, so all runners must sign up online by March 1.
Bibs, medals and shirts will still be picked up at the New Bedford YMCA, and the traditional post-race meal of chowder and fish sandwiches will still be served. Fans are expected to line the course.
“We’re in this cautiously optimistic planning mode where everything is going to work the way it has worked 45 previous times,” McCarthy said. “It’s going to look and appear much like it has historically.”
The same holds true for the folk festival, although the Zeiterion’s Rosemary Gill noted that nothing is certain this far out.
“What we’ve learned is we can plan all we want, but it will change,” she said, noting the festival will use electronic ticketing.
The return of outdoor festivals will also be a boon to downtown businesses. Thirty percent of the Folk Festival’s 5,000 or so attendees are tourists.
“We know it’s been greatly missed, not only by the people who come to the festival, including the patrons and artists and families and crafters and food vendors, but also the downtown businesses who rely on this festival,” Gill said. “We’re told over and over again by businesses that the festival weekend is their best weekend of the whole year.”
The half marathon, which requires 1,000 volunteers to run smoothly and raises money for needs-based and academic scholarships, is another highlight for downtown businesses. The race peaked at a little over 3,000 runners a few years ago. Registration this year is in line with 2019, said McCarthy, who expects a little more than 2,100 runners to cross the starting line in front of City Hall on March 20.
“We’re excited to be back,” he said. “It’s such a positive event for the city.”
Email Brendan Kurie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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