SALAMANCA — For more than four decades, the true start of autumn in Salamanca has been the annual Falling Leaves Festival, perfectly timed to when the leaves have changed their colors and begin falling to the ground.
As the 42nd edition of this local fall tradition takes place this weekend, once again a group of community members and long-time supporters will once again handle the reins of the annual Salamanca Seneca Falling Leaves Festival.
This year’s festival, hosted by the city of Salamanca and the Seneca Nation of Indians, runs today through Sunday at Jefferson Street Park and the downtown area.
“We’ve got so much going on,” said festival organizer Kathy Sarver. “We try to add a little more every year.”
The organizing committee of community volunteers has been planning for months trying to make this year’s Falling Leaves Festival bigger — and better — than ever.
“I think it’s going to be better than last year,” said Jodi Scanlan, a festival organizer. “Every year it’s grown and done well and the community seems to support it, and it’s a fun thing to be a part of.”
The weekend kicks off Friday afternoon with the return of “I Got It,” which will open in the park at 4 p.m. “I think a lot of people will be happy that I Got It is back,” Sarver said. “That’s a big thing.”
Then at 5 o’clock, Championship Wrestling will entertain festival-goers with an exciting show, a big hit with the kids last year that’s sure to entertain them again.
Dozens of food and craft vendors will be on-site throughout the weekend, opening at noon on Friday and 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
“They’re running right on schedule as before,” Scanlan said. “We’ll definitely hit our numbers from last year, and we may have more.”
Once again, much of the festival is free of charge, especially for kids and their families. The carnival rides, children’s activities through the youth center such as face painting and a bounce house, as well as a caricature artist, photo booth and dunk tank are all free to the public.
“It’s always good when you give children opportunities that don’t cost them anything,” said Sandi Brundage, director of the Salamanca Youth Center. “Any child can come and participate without any cost to them or their family.”
Several games and contests will take place Saturday afternoon, including a pie-eating contest, a hot dog eating contest and kids games in the park.
In order to plan for unpredictable weather, an 80-foot by 40-foot tent will be set up in the center of Jefferson Street Park.
The entertainment continues Saturday with three area music groups performing under the big tent in the park throughout the afternoon and evening.
The WNY Fiddle Kids will take the stage at 1 p.m., followed by the Cold Spring Indian Dancers at 3 o’clock. Capping off entertain Saturday is the festival dance in the park at 4:30 with live music from Porcelain Busdrivers. A live DJ will also be in the park 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Also on Saturday, local artist and railroad historian Stan Carlson will have his work on display at the Salamanca Rail Museum, which will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Carlson will be showcasing new works as well as some old favorites as part of the festival.
New this year, on Sunday, a Community Church Service will begin the day at 10:30 a.m., with eight local churches coming together, Scanlan said. A youth Christian rock band will provide tunes with Pastor Buck Hall giving the sermon. About 100 chairs will be set up, but bringing your own is encouraged.
And just like clockwork, the grand parade will be the finale of the festival weekend at 1 p.m. Currently, the parade line-up is ahead of last year for the number of units participating.
“We always have room for more,” said Donna Raahauge, parade organizer. “If you have a classic car, we’d love to have it in the parade.”
Anyone can get into the parade right up until it steps off, but if you’re interested in participating, contact Raahauge at 378-5468 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible.
After the parade, three of the bands will be playing under the tent, so make sure you stay for this presentation. Following the bands, Buffalo-area singer/songwriter Stephen Piotrowski will perform live in the park. The beer tent in the park will also be televising the Buffalo Bills game.
Finally on Sunday, one of the biggest hits of last year’s festival returns as the money machine will be set up at the park at 5 p.m.
“When the money machine is being done this year, you have to be there when the drawing takes place,” Scanlan said. “You have to stand there, and then if your name gets called, you get to go in.”
Ten lucky contests will have their ticket drawn for a chance to jump in the wind tunnel sponsored by Seneca Gaming and grab as much cash as they can in 45 seconds. Last year, contestants walked away with more than $1,300 in all.
The Falling Leaves Festival has been a mainstay nearly every year since 1976, when various Salamanca residents in 1975 formed the Salamanca Positive Action Committee to increase civic pride. The first festival was held Sept. 30 through Oct. 3, 1976.
This year’s Falling Leaves Festival is set to take place on Friday, Oct. 4 through Sunday, Oct. 6 at Jefferson Street Park. The primary hours of the festival, featuring vendors, rides and the majority of the contests, take place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.