Lee Founders Weekend 2016: Celebrating a town, turned destination


LEE, MASS. — For two decades plus, Lee Founders Weekend has elevated from the town's signature annual celebration to an anchor of numerous special events and a reflection of a thriving downtown year round.

The three-day mid-September festival that begins Friday, now shares the local cultural spotlight with a June jazz festival, community playhouse, a spring music series and farmers market that has turned the blue collar community into the cultural place to be.

"As a Realtor, I've heard from other Realtors that Lee has become a destination," said Founders Weekend Committee chairman Joe Furgal.

"I think people have been coming to Lee in the last few years with our marketing and the video was a big plus," said Franck Tessier, co-owner of Chez Nous Bistro on Main Street and Lee Chamber of Commerce president.

Tessier was referring to the two-minute aerial video — shot using a drone — to promote the town that included footage of "Taste of Lee."

The three-hour street festival The Taste of Lee continues to anchor events held on Friday when staff from restaurants throughout town line the sidewalks along Main Street and serve up their specialties or dishes made just for the occasion. Main Street from Academy Street to Park Street will be closed to motor vehicle traffic to provide a pedestrian-friendly, three-hour event from 5 to 8 p.m.

Live music, including a community block dance, street artisans, crafters and a children's carnival will be mixed in among the food during the evening affair.

Chamber executive director Colleen Henry is finding more out-of-town eateries and vendors are clamoring to be part of "Taste of Lee."

"That's my struggle finding a spot for them, but I'm happy to solve that problem as we really appreciate their participation," she said.

"Success breeds requests," Furgal noted.

For the past four years, "Taste of Lee" has been going green. The Lee Recycling Committee has been encouraging restaurants and food vendors to use recyclable containers, plates and utensils. With a ban on polystyrene containers to take effect in Lee next May, committee chairman Peter Hofman said local eateries are becoming more eco-friendly.

"One restaurant switched to greenware because they saw this [regulation] coming," he said.

Saturday remains the action-packed portion of the weekend with plenty of activity from just after dawn to well past dusk.

The day opens with a 5K race starting at Lee Middle and High School and wraps up with Festival Latino of the Berkshires — now in its 21st year — and the debut of Saturday Night Liv, a variety show hosted by local comedic actress Liv (pronounced Leev) Cummins.

For the second consecutive year, the parade steps off at 10 a.m., moved up an hour in 2015 to avoid bucking up against the weekend traffic getting off Exit 2 of the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Parade grand marshal is Lee Fire Chief Alan Sparks who is retiring at year's end after nearly 40 years with the Lee Fire Department, the last six and a half as the top man.

Surrounding local fire departments will join Lee in the hourlong procession that includes high school and youth bands, classic cars and the Lee High Class of 1966. A float of the reigning 50th class reunion has become a staple of the parade.

"I think that's what makes the Hometown Parade a community event," Henry said.

Starting the parade an hour early last year, left a scheduling gap that organizers have filled with family oriented activities all along Main Street.

As with any long-established festival, it needs occasional tweaking and sometimes a new act.

On Friday and Saturday starting at 7:30 p.m., Saturday Night Liv has the run of the Spectrum Playhouse on Franklin Street, just off Main Street beyond Salmon Run Fish House.

SNLiv features sketch comedy — appropriate for all ages — comic Danny Bloom, local magician Carl Seiger and The Berkshire Children's Theater. Special guest performer is television, theater and movie icon of the '60s, '70s and '80s John Davidson who moved to Lenox three years ago. Also a singer/songwriter, Davidson will perform original songs and tell a story or two.

Cummins and head writer Sandy McKnight created the concept 15 years ago in nearby Columbia County, N.Y., before they relocated to Lee last year. They played the playhouse two weeks after Founders Weekend 2015.

"We immediately recognized we needed to be part of the [festival]," Cummins said. "We hope to build an audience through our presence that weekend."

St. Mary's School on Orchard Street takes center stage on Sunday, hosting the Kiwanis Club of Lee pancake breakfast. The parochial pre-kindergarten through 8th grade school is this year's beneficiary of the chamber's duck derby, with both entities sharing in the funds raised by the rubber duck race on the Housatonic River.

There's plenty to do in Lee, Mass., this weekend in celebration of Lee Founders Weekend 2016. Here is a schedule of the festival's highlights:

IF YOU GO ....


• 5 p.m. Lee Historical Society Cemetery Tour ~ Fairmount Cemetery


• 5-8 p.m. Taste of Lee; Dining al fresco as Main Street is closed to vehicular traffic from Academy Street to Park Street.

• 4-8 p.m. Musical performances by Robin O'Herin, Housatonic Philharmonic, and Moonshine Holler, Main Street.

• 3-5 p.m. CreativeLEE XVI Reception, J. Peter Scolforo Gallery, Lee Library, 100 Main St.

• 3-5 p.m. Housatonic Valley Association, learn about the Housatonic River wildlife, front lawn of Lee Library

• 7:30 p.m. Saturday Night Liv variety show w/ Liv Cummins and troupe, Spectrum Playhouse, Franklin Street.


• 8:15 a.m. 5K Road Race, start/finish at Lee Middle & High School, 300 Greylock St. Visit www.leefoundersweekend.com for registration information.

• 10 a.m. Hometown Parade, Main, Park and Housatonic streets. Grand Marshal: Lee Fire Chief Alan Spark

• 11:30 a.m. Bowey the Clown Magic Show, Lee Athletic Field, Housatonic Street.

• 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Big Green Egg Cooking Contest, town gazebo off Railroad Street. All proceeds to benefit the Kiwanis Club of Lee.

• Noon. Live music, food, games. Baja Charlie's/Ingegni Salon, 62 West Center St.

• 1-4 p.m. Lee Youth Commission Children's Activities, Lee Athletic Field

• 2-8 p.m. Festival Latino of the Berkshires, First Congregational Church park, next to Lee Memorial Town Hall

• 7:30 p.m. Saturday Night Liv variety show w/ Liv Cummins and troupe, Spectrum Playhouse, Franklin Street.


• 8-11 a.m. Kiwanis Club of Lee Pancake Breakfast, St. Mary's School,115 Orchard St.

• St. Mary's School Duck Derby — Many prizes!

• 10 a.m. Lee CTA Vintage Tennis Tournament, Greenock Country Club, 220 W. Park St.

For more information go to www.leefoundersweekend.com


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