NARRAGANASETT, R.I. — The popular annual Calamari Festival in Narragansett appears to be a go for this year, after the Town Council pushed back against the original proposed date for the event: Sept. 11.
An on-the-fly suggestion from council member Patrick Murray at Monday’s meeting resulted in the festival moving to the following day, Sunday, Sept. 12. That means it won’t conflict with observances of the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001.
Council members and public speakers Monday said it would have been in poor taste to hold the festival on what many see as a solemn day of remembrance.
“The council was uncomfortable with holding this on Sept. 11,” Council President Jesse Pugh said.
Two weeks ago, the Narragansett Chamber of Commerce came to the council with the Sept. 11 date. The festival typically falls on the first Saturday after Labor Day.
But the council suggested the chamber, headed by Peg Fredette, work with Parks and Recreation Director Steven Wright to pick a new date and come back.
Council members and the public were dismayed Monday when the request was back, but with the original Sept. 11 date proposed.
“We have exhausted all options for dates and venues throughout the town,” Fredette said. “Believe me if there was a way to do it, we would have done it, and we tried.”
Fredette said that on the dates the chamber and Wright investigated, there were other functions such as weddings at the Towers or the gazebo, or too many other events happening in town.
“Or, the property use that we wanted to try just has been untested for this type of large-scale event. This is not a small event,” she said.
Fredette said that planning for such events sometimes takes a year or more.
“It’s not a one-off,” she said. “We’re responsible for our fishermen who plan their year around this, we have our vendors, our tent companies, and most importantly we have to keep people safe.”
She noted that many other events are taking place in the state and the country on Sept. 11, and said plans were being made to have a memorial service at the start of the day in the revamped Memorial Square. Then, there would be a gap of time between the end of the memorial service and the start of the calamari festival at noon. Fredette got in touch with the National Guard about a bugler and representatives from the Armed Forces. She also spoke with local veterans who urged her to carry on with the plans, she said.
“We will not shame the single mom who wants to have her child’s face painted for fun; the fisherman who celebrates his or her line of work with their colleagues; a grandparent who wants to buy a trinket for their grandchild, or someone who wants a cold beer,” she said. “On the other hand, unlike some others we will not judge or shame someone who chooses to stay at home and spend their time in a solemn way. That is their choice.”
But the idea still didn’t sit well with Pugh and others.
“I spoke to a lot of people with different backgrounds. Some were uncomfortable, others were OK with it,” Pugh said. “We have options. The council’s not going to be boxed into a corner on a certain date that we didn’t approve.”
Resident Michael Riley said he was working in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and rarely has talked about that experience.
“I lost 11 friends and colleagues that day. I had five employees that never returned to my job,” he said. The experience caused him to sell his business and move his family to Narragansett, he said.
He called Fredette’s comments “disgusting,” and inappropriate.
Fredette later said she did not mean to come off as “bullying” anyone, and wanted to arrive at a solution.
Pugh said that Sept. 4 and 25 were potential dates, but that Towers management had assured one wedding party that there would be no town event on the adjacent field on Sept. 12. He remained firm against the Sept. 11 date and preferred Sept. 4.
Murray suggested the town open up the gazebo park field for the festival and close off the Exchange Street between the park and Memorial Square.
“So we don’t affect the wedding because we don’t want to upset bridezilla. That way there, we’re opening up another acre and can have it on the 12th,” he said. “We can rope off plenty of space for the wedding and spill across the street onto gazebo park, and have the memorial on the 11th.”
Wright said that has been done on many occasions for other events. Fredette responded that she’d be open to the idea, provided the festival can safely operate its propane fryers at the park.
Resident Catherine Celeberto offered to make up any revenue lost if the Towers offers a discount to the wedding party on Sept. 12 because of the sudden change.
“That’s how strongly I feel that we should not be doing something like this on 9/11,” she said.