Life » Culture

Rochester's 2004 Lilac Festival

It's bloom time

Our 10-day homage to the heady lilac has returned: This year's Lilac Festival will run from Friday, May 14, through Sunday, May 23.

            The festival doesn't only give us more incentive to enjoy the well-designed acres of Highland Park, or herald the opening of the long and busy summer festival season. Each year our scented party is more packed with activities and exhibitors and things for us to enjoy alongside (or even to distract us from) the lilacs. Remember: the best time to enjoy the flowers themselves --- 1,200 bushes, over 500 varieties --- is either early morning or late evening. But find the family activities, shopping, eating, music, and fun during all the hours in between.

            The Lilac Festival is open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and admission is free. Here is a partial list of activity highlights. For full schedules and information, visit the comprehensive Then get out and sniff around. We don't call ourselves the Lilac Capital of the World for nothing.

Lilac festival activities

The festival will officially open on Friday, May 14, with school bands and local speakers, at 12 p.m. on the Lilac Stage.

            More than 20 marching bands will join the annual R News Lilac Parade, which starts moving on Saturday, May 15, at 10:30 a.m. The parade goes down South and Highland Avenues.

            The arts and crafts will be out on the weekends. Hundreds of exhibitors will display their handmade wares at the Lilac Festival Arts & Crafts Show, Saturday and Sunday, May 15 and 16, and Art in the Park, May 22 and 23. Both shows are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., along South Avenue.

            Both kids and seniors get their own special treatment during the fest. Every afternoon the Lilac Pavilion in the Lilac 'n' Kids Zone will offer free entertainment --- including music, juggling, sing-a-longs, and plays --- and activities for small fees. The Lilacs 'n' Seniors day is Wednesday, May 19, with music throughout the day and lunch at the Cornell Cooperative Extension. (Reservations are required. 256-4960.)

            The Wine & Jazz Farmer's Market is back. On Thursday, May 20, under the Big Top Tent, more than a dozen regional wineries and food vendors will have treats to sample or buy. Peter Cincotti will provide the jazz. This year, a fundraiser will cap the day. Gala in the Park will benefit FOODLINK and the Highland Park Conservancy. Tickets, which are $50, include dinner, music, and wine.

            Montana Mills' annual 5K and 10K family run is on Sunday, May 23, at 9 a.m. Registration is $18 in advance, $20 the day of the event. Registration forms are available at Montana Mills locations or on the website,

            The second Lilac Search for the Stars finals will be held on Sunday, May 23, from 12 to 3 p.m. Rochesterians in junior and adult singer categories have been competing for a chance to sing in front of a festival audience. The least you can do is stop and gawk.

            And a flower festival would not be complete without flower sales. The Home Depot Lilac Home and Garden Show will be held during the festival's first weekend, in the Big Top Tent. The Master Gardener Plant Sale, offering perennials, annuals, herbs, trees, and vegetables, and Harris' Extension Foundation Planter Sale will both run the length of the festival.

            Parking will be fierce, as always. Avoid the temptation to park on side streets or on people's lawns, and you'll avoid tickets and towing. On the weekends, park for free at Monroe Community College, 1000 East Henrietta Road, and take the $1 RTS shuttle (lift-equipped) to the festival site. The shuttles run from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday you can park for free in marked Festival Lots: on Goodman Street south of Highland Avenue or on Elmwood Avenue east of South Avenue. Handicapped parking during the week is in a Goodman Street lot south of Highland or in a South Avenue lot south of Highland. For the duration of the festival, people can park for $5 at the Colgate Divinity School, 1180 South Goodman Street.

            For more information on events, parking, and other questions, visit or call 256-4960.

What do 1,200 lilacs sound like?

Besides the sweet pungency filling the air, there'll be plenty of music to keep you interested long after staring at flowers gets old.

            There will be a gaggle of school bands and choruses and local talent of virtually every genre, all sprinkled with a smattering of national up-and-comers and legends.

            Here are a few you might dig on the Lilac Stage:

            Friday, May 14: Canadian singer-songwriter Mary Simon and new-on-the-scene rocker Graham Colton bring introspection and thought to the proceedings, starting at 5 p.m.

            Saturday, May 15: Wallow in the bluegrass with String Theory at 2 p.m. and groove fantastic with the polyrhythmic Buddhahood at 6:30 p.m.

            Sunday, May 16: It's the '60s rock of The White Ravens at 2:30 p.m., new-rock chanteuse Jessi Hamilton plays at 5 p.m., and the king of Flower City swing will shake his thing when The Spanky Haschman Orchestra --- 19 pieces, baby --- rocks the joint at 6:30 p.m. Raleigh, North Carolina's Jessi Hamilton is a young piano playing singer I'd like to hear live. Her music is lush and full of the simplicity found in a young girl's complicated life. The production on her advanced CD is really heavy handed and Hamilton kinda gets buried in the mix and myriad vocal overdubs. It'll be nice to see this young lady onstage where the music will shine.

            Monday, May 17: This day offers, in my opinion, the highlight of the whole event when West Texas' roots-rock trio, Los Lonely Boys, rock at 6:30 p.m.Los Lonely Boys are three West Texas brothers who play an earthy blend of roots rock rendered with the precision only blood relations can bring.

            Guitarist Henry Garza rhythmically picks and chops with a sweet simplicity over his two brothers' funky locomotive.

            Starting off as their dad's backing band, the trio draws from a wide variety of Americana from Tex-Mex, country, and blues to The Beatles. And incidentally, the drummer's real name in Ringo. No, really.

            Tuesday, May 18: Groove and swirl with the hippies and Big Leg Emma at 5 p.m., followed by folksters Jeff Austin & Chris Castino.

            Wednesday, May 19: The Tom Passiomonti Trio jazzes up the proceedings at 5 p.m. before the legendary Platters ("Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," "Only You") hit the stage at 6:30 p.m.

            Thursday, May 20: It's more jazz with The Joe Santora Trio at 3 p.m., Jimmie Highsmith at 5 p.m., and Peter Cincotti at 6:30 p.m.

            Friday, May 21: Classic Albums Live does The Beatles' Rubber Soul and Revolver note for note at 6:30 p.m.

            Saturday, May 22: Today is aaaall country. Kid Kurry at noon, Ciara Lynn (a young lady who sings her head off) at 1:15 p.m., Double Cross at 2:30 p.m., local legend and honky-tonk proprietress Josie Waverly with JB & Company at 3:45 p.m. Colt Prather closes the afternoon at 5 p.m.

            Sunday, May 22: It's Ingram Hill at 3:30 p.m., rocker Joey Brucato at 5 p.m., and Funk Family Affair (featuring some ex-Family Stoners) at 6 p.m.

            Throughout the week acoustic talent will reign supreme at the Conservatory Stage with acts like Keith Harden, Silandara Bartlett, Joanne Vacarro, Bacci, Gregory Paul, Mary Roberts, and Fred Vine.

            This is just a partial list. Check out or call 256-4960 for a complete schedule for both the ESL Lilac Stage (the corner of Highland and South Avenues) and the Conservatory Stage (Reservoir Drive). All music is free.

--- Frank De Blase