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Rochester's festival season is still in flux

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After a year in which the pandemic sidelined the festival season, the city of Rochester is accepting applications to bring festivals back — with tweaks that aim to ensure safety.

The Lilac Festival has already announced plans to return, as has the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival, which is moving to RIT, with modifications.

Deputy Mayor James Smith said smaller festivals will have to adjust, too.

“Certainly the state and the county Health Departments need to be a part of whatever event planning that goes forward,” Smith said after the Lilac Festival’s announcement in early April. “We’re excited about working with all of those folks who put those events on to get back to doing it, but I just think everyone needs to be prepared and needs to understand that it will be different. It will be different.”
Trombone Shorty performed at the East/Alexander Stage as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Trombone Shorty performed at the East/Alexander Stage as part of the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
Orlando Ortiz, president of Rochester's Puerto Rican Festival, realizes that. The Puerto Rican Festival attracts about 21,000 visitors over three days every summer. As things look today, he said, the festival would have to scale back for everyone’s safety. But, he added, there’s a financial risk in doing that. He said it costs around $200,000 a year to produce the festival, which includes bringing in acts from around the world.

“We’ve been around for 50-plus years and I would hate to say ‘just put on something this year,’ and then it puts us in a bad position where we can’t have anything else going forward,” said Ortiz. “We want to make sure that whatever we do, we’re fiscally responsible to the organization and we don’t jeopardize the longevity of the organization.”

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Ortiz said the festival committee has met frequently in recent months, carefully considering the financial and public health implications of having a festival. He said nothing is set at this point but he’d rather not rely on having to verify for COVID-19 vaccinations or recent negative tests, but temperature checks could be a part of the mix for entry to the festival.
A young girl dances at the Puerto Rican Festival parade. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • A young girl dances at the Puerto Rican Festival parade.
“I’d rather stay away from that if we can,” said Ortiz. “But I recognize that the more and more we get into this, (it) could be the norm for anyone hosting an event. It brings a different level of complexity to hosting an event.”

Because of the ever-changing nature of the pandemic and state guidelines around it, Ortiz said the festival committee will wait as long as they can before making a final decision on whether there will be a Puerto Rican Festival. He said news will come in May or June.

“Everybody is aware that it’ll look different than before. So I think the community is very supportive of it,” Ortiz said. “So it's just a matter of how we do it in a safe manner.”

James Brown is a reporter for WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.