Graw Days preview

Downtown Havre de Grace is preparing to welcome thousands of visitors for the annual Graw Days Festival on Saturday, Oct. 12. (Aegis file photo / October 13, 2012)

Downtown Havre de Grace holds its sixth annual Graw Days Festival on Saturday, Oct. 12, a celebration of the city's horse racing heritage that will also feature a number of new activities for young and old.

The city's downtown is once again transforming its streets and shops into a whimsical, yet family friendly, festival extravaganza. Jam-packed into a single day, this 12-hour marathon features entertainment, history, speaker series, antique cars, music, food, arts, crafts, shopping, theater and dancing.

In celebration of the nostalgic decades between 1912 and 1950, the memorable "Graw Racetrack" is used as a backdrop for everything. Opened in 1912, the Graw Days Festival commemorates the 101st anniversary of the track and the tremendous impact it had on the community.

The festival, whose primary sponsor is Havre de Grace Main St. Inc., brings that time back to life through a wide variety of offerings. Tours of "The Graw" and visits to all the museums in town will be available on The Great American Trolley, which you can ride all day for $1, at St. John and Franklin streets.

"It's going to be a lot of family fun," Bill Price, Graw Days chairman and a member of Main Street, said. "We're going to have a lot of new things. We're extending into a fall festival, so there will be a lot of great music, plus pumpkin bowling and pumpkin chucking."

Among the musical acts featured are the Peabody Ragtime Ensemble and the locally popular Swingin Swamis, the latter who will be playing Saturday evening at what Price describes as a block party featuring food by local eateries and a beer and wine garden.

"This is our sixth year, and we plan a lot of fun for kids, while also moving off 'The Graw' theme a bit to offer more fall activities," Price explained, pointing out the festival will offer plenty of historic-themed exhibits and events, as always.

The festival will begin at the Main Stage, sitting at the top of Pennington Avenue, with an opening ceremony at 10 a.m., and then will feature entertainment throughout the day at that and other locations.

Visitors will also be able to experience the Graw Days Speakeasy, where local restaurants will offer an assortment of menus. 

The Speakeasy bartenders will be serving to wrist-banded guests an array of artisan beers and specialty wines. Throughout the Speakeasy, costumed personalities will be interacting with customers and inviting them to have their palms read by the great palm reading swami from Punjab Provence in the North of India. 

Right outside the Speakeasy and all along Washington and St. John streets, selected artists and crafts people will be stationed. More than 75 vendors have been selected and will be offering handmade items along with unique gift items from local shop owners. Several restaurants will have outdoor café seating.

As always, vintage and antique cars from the Graw Days period will be situated at the foot of Pennington Avenue.

On St. John Street, at the restored 1903 First National Bank building, the Graw Days Committee brings "History @ the Bank," showing a large number of racing artifacts, prints and historic items. Visitors will be able to hear about the history in Havre de Grace with the Graw Days Speaker Series. Videos will be shown and historians will be on hand with presentations.

At the other end of the festival will be the "Little Roundup Stage," a transformed Congress Avenue featuring carnival games, pumpkin face painting, pumpkin bowling, pumpkin chucking, period games and crafts. All this will be offered, plus the "Little Rascals Stage," where children (and teens) will perform for children, with performances every half hour.

Visitors will also find small fee pony rides and carriage rides available during the day.

Events off the Graw Way also are happening at the old Opera House on Union Avenue, where the Tidewater Players present "Buddy Bentley Legendz: a Musical Revue," featuring characters of past. Shows repeat at 1:15 and 4:15 p.m.  

Historic St. John's Church presents "Born to Ride," a play depicting the history of Black Jockeys in Maryland, at 2 and 4 p.m.

The schedule of events for 2013 Graw Days Festival is:

Main Stage (Speakeasy, Pennington Avenue): 10 a.m., opening ceremony with master of ceremonies Bill Watson; 10:10 to 10:30, Tidewater review; 10:30 to 11, C. Milton Wright Band; 11 – noon, Redwine Jazz; noon to 12:30 p.m., Chris Monaghan; 12:30 to 1, Tidewater Buddy Bentley; 1 to 2, Rampart Street Ramblers; 2 to 2:30, Tidewater review; 2:30 to 3, Chris Monaghan; 3 to 5, Peabody Ragtime Ensemble; and 6 to 9, Swingin Swamis.

Little Roundup Stage (Congress Avenue next to Methodist Church): 9 to 11 a.m., United Methodist Praise Singers; 11 to 11:30, Tidewater; 11:30 to noon, Chris Monaghan; noon to 1 p.m., Pumpkin Bowling and country with Johnny Dry & Bobby Keen; 1 to 3, The Sensations; 3 to 4, Pumpkin Chucking; 3:30 to 4, Tidewater.

Local restaurants inside the Speakeasy include Laurrapin Grille, Tidewater Grille, Coakley's Pub and Price's Seafood and Laughing Crab. During the day, café seating on the street is available along the Graw Way. Beer and wine will be served throughout the day and into the night.

Silent auction items will be on display and bids will be taken throughout the day.