JAFFREY — Four years after a threat of violence led to the cancellation of the town’s Festival of Fireworks, the “oohs and aahs” are coming back to Jaffrey. The 25-year summer event, which has drawn about 35,000 people in the past, is set to return to the Silver Ranch Airpark on Aug. 20, the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce announced Wednesday. Its theme? “Small Town ... Big Dreams.”
“Though we were all saddened when the 2012 festival was canceled, we continued with a smaller festival at the Cheshire Fairgrounds in Swanzey,” said Sarah Pelkey Bergeron, president of the Jaffrey-based fireworks display company Atlas PyroVision Entertainment Group, in a news release. “Through its two-year run it never truly had the Jaffrey hometown feel of the Jaffrey Festival of Fireworks.”
The annual festival was canceled in 2012 after a letter addressed to selectmen and officials threatened that multiple people would be killed at the event. Copies were sent to police, the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce and The Sentinel.
The next year, organizers announced the festival would be canceled for good, citing the increased cost of keeping the public safe.
“We are all deeply saddened by this decision,” the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce, Atlas PyroVision Productions and the Silver Ranch Airpark wrote on Facebook at the time.
In addition to raising significant money for the chamber, the festival drew visitors into the town and the region.
In 2014 and 2015, the event found a new home, lighting up the skies above the Cheshire Fairgrounds in North Swanzey as the Monadnock Festival of Fireworks.
The venue change sparked ideas that will be incorporated into the revamped Jaffrey festival, including a new safety and security plan; using online ticketing to help with planning, and estimating crowds; employing additional volunteers to help at the festival’s entrance, and with parking and exiting; and new approvals and procedures for parking offsite, according to the news release.
Atlas, the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce and the Sawyer family, which owns the airpark, “have worked tirelessly with Jaffrey town officials to provide a festival plan with increased police, fire and EMT presence,” wrote Stephen Pelkey, CEO of Atlas PyroVision Entertainment Group, in an email to The Sentinel.
He said Atlas will continue to provide the fireworks display at the Cheshire Fair, as well as at the Monadnock Up In Smoke BBQ-Beer Festival event and the Monadnock Pumpkin Festival, all at the fairgrounds.
Although Pelkey said pricing for this year’s festival will be finalized in coming days, he said organizers are confident of these prices: $50, per car, online until Aug. 12; $60 through Aug. 19 and $70 on the day of the event. Motorcycles, with up to two occupants, are $25 through Aug. 12; $30 through Aug. 19 and $40 on the day of the event. The walk-ins fee is $8 until Aug. 12, $10 until Aug. 19 and $12 on the event day.
Cathy Furze, fireworks chairwoman, a Jaffrey business owner and past president of the chamber of commerce, said organizers are hoping to involve nonprofit groups in helping execute the festival, while also sharing in its benefits.
“I think everybody took a real hit, so to say, from the loss of this event that we had worked so hard for so long to have in town, and a lot of people planned their family vacations around it,” she said, describing how businesses of many different types felt the impact.
“We have people that come in from all over New England, not just the Monadnock Region ... because it’s the best fireworks show in New England,” she said. “People would come in for more than just a day. They’d plan a week’s vacation in the Monadnock area.”
When the festival flickered out in Jaffrey, “it took away a lot of summer activity in this area,” she said. “So we’re bringing it back. And we’re excited.”