The clouds peeled away over the 23rd annual Portage Area Summerfest on Saturday, and a cool breeze brought the aroma of sizzling hot sausages, halushki and other ethnic fare to the hundreds of fairgoers at Crichton McCormick Park.
The lineup of live bands, magic shows and Christian puppet plays was packed, and featured a Las Vegas-renowned Neil Diamond impersonator, comedy revues and a handful of area school administrators strumming and crooning.
Summerfest started out as the Portage Centennial, according to Jean Kinley, festival co-chairwoman. Organizers liked the idea so much that they decided to keep it going each year.
“It’s a lifeline, really for Crichton McCormick Park,” she said.
Although the family-oriented event is free, all of the proceeds go back into the park or the festival itself. Kinley said Summerfest is a way to showcase the park’s facilities.
Plenty of local organizations get to showcase their grill skills as well. Kinley said the best way to enjoy Summerfest is to “eat your way” across the park.
“You can’t beat the Lutheran roast beef,” she said. “I don’t know what they do to it, but their roast beef sandwiches are phenomenal.”
One booth is locally famous for being a Summerfest feasting staple. Buckhorn Grange Local 1119’s ham pot pie, which garnered resounding accolades from dozens of diners, usually sells out by noon on Sunday, Kinley said.
“It’s simple to make and it’s just from scratch,” said Stanley “Stush” Golden, who appeared to need extra hands to meet Saturday’s demand. “(The method) is kind of dying out. Now, we make it and it’s a big thing.”
Della Nagle of Portage said it’s one of the prime reasons she keeps coming back to Summerfest each year.
On the gazebo stage, a brand new Summerfest rock act set up around 3 p.m., but its faces should be familiar – Portage Area Superintendent Rich Bernazzoli was on lead guitar in charge of the classic rock licks. He and a handful of other area school officials call their band Old Skool. It started as a one-off show for a leadership conference at Penn State.
Today’s festivities start withMass in the park gazebo, followed by the Rotary Club pancake breakfast at 8 a.m. Then it’s car showings, races, a mock car crash put on by the Portage Junior Firefighters and live music from Elvis impersonator Phil McCaulley, Irish folk-rockers Tree, The Conniptions and Johnny Angel and the Halos.
“We probably average about 7,000 to 10,000 people for the weekend,” Kinley said. “That’s pretty good for a little town.”
Justin Dennis covers Portage Borough for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/JustinDennis.