SACKETS HARBOR — The village’s 50th Can-Am Festival will be bigger than ever July 16 and 17. The website for the event features a countdown that breaks the wait into days, hours, minutes and seconds: www.canamfestival.com.
The Can-Am Festival is a long-running village tradition, started in 1971, celebrating friendship between the United States and Canada. After a few years of light on the “Can” due to closed borders, the village will welcome its neighbors back to the festival this year.
For the past 50 years, Sackets Harbor and the town of Hounsfield have been hosting the Can-Am Festival, a free, family-friendly weekend of music, crafters, cornhole tournaments, kites, farmers markets, kids activities and more to celebrate Canadian-American heritage. Despite rain in the event’s history, it was only canceled once due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which is why the 50th anniversary is being celebrated this year on what would have been the 51st had that cancellation not occurred.
“Can-Am has meant a lot of things to a lot of different people,” said organizer Cheryl M. Payne. “It has changed so much over the years, it’s tried to stay up with time. We’ve had to adjust it every year, but I think it’s always kept that hometown festival feel.”
Mrs. Payne said there will be around 50 vendors between food, wine garden vendors, crafters, and the farmers market. Mrs. Payne has been on the Can-Am committee for 20 years and has been in charge of the festival for 11 years. This will be her last year.
Both days, the festival opens at 10 a.m. Last year, the event went on, but without its iconic parade due to COVID-19 concerns. This year, organizers say it’s going to be better than ever, featuring aerial arts by CirqOvation and a military flyover to kick it off at noon on Saturday. All past grand marshals have been invited to be part of this year’s parade.
Also Saturday, the festival will feature a kite festival, the Speedster Challenge with both adult and youth categories, human foosball, and bounces for the kids, as well as music from Downbeat Percussion, an area favorite that will play during and after the parade, Blue Coupe and Last Left. National recording artists Blue Coupe will play from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the big stage in front of the Visitor’s Center. Blue Coupe is a megaband featuring Dennis Dunaway, Joe Bouchard and Albert Bouchard. Dennis is a founder of the original Alice Cooper group and a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Joe and Albert are the original founders of Blue Oyster Cult. Central New York cover band Last Left goes on at 7:15 and plays until 10 p.m.
At 10 p.m. the day’s events will end with a fireworks display over the harbor.
“We’re having a huge firework display this year,” Mrs. Payne said. “As the fireworks company says, it is the largest in the north country, even bigger than Alexandria Bay does. So this is going to be a big deal in the harbor.”
On Sunday, the festival will feature a frying pan toss, cornhole tournament, crowd favorite Vintage Baseball, and the band ATLAS playing at the Battlefield beginning at 3 p.m., sponsored by the Sackets Harbor Historical Society. A full schedule of events for the weekend can be found online, though the schedule is subject to change.
Mrs. Payne said key sponsors of the event and its larger elements include Lake Ontario Realty LLC, Tom Spalding State Farm and FX Caprara. Other sponsors include Heller’s Gas, The Bottle of Sackets Harbor and Watertown Savings Bank, which will be sponsoring another new addition to the festival: the safe cracker giveaway. Tickets for the safe cracking will be $5 each and there will be no limit to how many can be purchased, but those with multiple tickets will not be allowed to take turns one right after another. The premise is anyone with a ticket can go up to the safe and punch in a six-digit code. If the code unlocks the safe, that person will win $25,000. Tickets are expected to go on sale soon.
Sponsorship Chair Dean A. DeVito said the event is welcoming corporate sponsors. Those interested can contact him at 315-286-7171.
The festival will have some commemorative items for sale, including a T-shirt and combination flags of American and Canadian flags. There will also be cowbells for the Blue Oyster Cult.
“It needs to be celebrated, to have anything today go 50 years. I think it just needs to be celebrated,” Mrs. Payne said. “And there’s been so many people over the years who have contributed to it. A lot of people benefit from the work of a small, dedicated committee and it’s been an honor to be a part of it.”