Mystic ― Riverfest returned to the Mystic Seaport Museum for the second time this weekend, and the museum has more musical performances in its sights.
The museum has partnered with Westerly Sound to host the three-day event, bringing 14 musical performances to the center of the 19-acre campus. The museum’s vice president of business development and marketing Kevin O’Leary said the hope is to eventually make it a two-day music festival, either in late 2023 or early 2024
O’Leary said he thinks the museum’s unique campus with multiple venues is ready for such an event, and so is the community.
“We love this area,” O’Leary said. “We want to bring really cool things to the community that supports us, so we’re trying this out. Seems to be going well.”
Westerly Sound founder Sean Spellman said the partnership was natural as he and O’Leary are “like-minded.” He added that not many music festivals are as family-friendly or as affordable as Riverfest. Spellman said he wants to expand the music offering to reach as many people as possible.
“The appeal is in doing something that has really deep-rooted historical and cultural significance, and also somehow connecting that to a new, progressive form of entertainment or just music in general,” Spellman said of continuing to partner with O’Leary .
“For what we want to do and what he wants to do, it’s a natural partnership,” O’Leary said.
However, Riverfest is more than just the music. While the museum’s regular exhibitions are open all weekend, there are special offers for the weekend.
Visitors can meet local fishermen, learn about their boats and the different fishing industries. There were whale boat demonstrations and Liberty boat trips all weekend, even tours of the 1921 fishing schooner LA Dunton and lectures on 19th century oyster fishing. Shipyard tours, harvest-themed activities for children and oyster tasting rounded off the event, which spanned the weekend.
O’Leary called the educational aspect of the event “crucial” for a cultural institution. He said with so many different ways for people to spend their time and consume content, it’s important for the museum to connect with the community whenever possible.
“We’re just trying to connect with people at their level and then nurture and grow that relationship,” O’Leary said.
Maria Petrillo, the museum’s director of interpretations, said it’s exciting to be able to work with other organizations to tell maritime stories, especially when the weather cooperates like it did this year.
“Naval history and music history are very closely intertwined, so it’s nice to be able to bring those two things together,” said Petrillo.
Just because the two are related doesn’t mean they have to be enjoyed at the same time. Just ask 9-year-old Cora Morgan from Stonington. She decided the music was “too loud,” so she and her dad Kelsey went to build some wooden ships instead.
“It was a really nice day,” Kelsey said of Cora building her own pirate ship. “It was fun to see the bands.”
Kelsey said he got to taste one of the Mystic Oyster oysters, which was accompanied by the music. Tim Giulini and a few others opened up oysters for visitors to buy for $2 each, with lemon wedges and Tabasco sauce to add as needed. Giulini, who said his title changes by the day, said the Noank-based company exports oysters all over the east coast.
Priscilla Wells, Empire Fisheries’ accountant, said she was glad the weather was nice enough to give tours of her ship, Furious.
The Stonington-based fishery gave visitors a glimpse of what it’s like to operate a scallop fishing boat, as well as the struggles faced by the entire industry. Wells said while the industry continues to grapple with the idea of overfishing and creating sustainable fishing practices, offshore wind turbines could be the next problem.
“People seem very receptive and I think our boat represents the future of fishing because of our focus on sustainability,” Wells said.
The three-part tour begins with Wells and an overview of the deck before visitors head inside to learn more about scallop shelling and the ship’s operations. At the top, Joe Gilbert talks about sustainable fishing practices, the new challenges in the industry and how to overcome them.
“We’re really focused on education,” Wells said of the fishing venture.
Monday is the last day of the event, which falls on Indigenous Peoples Day. Petrillo said the museum had Silvermoon Larose, a member of the Narragansett tribe and associate director of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, RI, come to cook a traditional meal Monday. There will also be a lecture on researching a lost book about a local whaler.
Sunday was subtitled “Mystic Folkways in Celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day”. The museum gave a lecture on the local oyster harvest to kick off Monday’s calendar of events.