For the first time in its 25-year history, the Canal Fest of the Tonawandas invited several new bugle bands to play Sunday to drum up more visitors during the kickoff of the eight-day festival.
A new minidrum corps performance drew dozens of onlookers and some light-hearted quizzing of North Tonawanda Mayor Lawrence Soos on Webster Street.
"This thing will be jammed once the word starts to get out," said Soos, who was the only person in the crowd to correctly guess the name of a tune played by the Hitmen Brass Band. "You can see it's good entertainment."
Soos, a 20-year drum and bugle corps veteran, worked with several local bands to start what he hopes will become an annual tradition on what is typically the slowest day of the festival along the Erie Canal.
The minidrum corps performance was just one of more than 100 activities planned for the eight-day celebration of the Tonawandas. On Tuesday, the festival's annual parade is expected to last more than two hours.
Last year, the weeklong festival drew more than 250,000 people, and organizers are hoping to draw as many this year, said Ray Wesolowski, vice president of the Canal Fest of the Tonawandas.
Hundreds of people wandered through Sweeney and Webster streets in North Tonawanda and on Young and Niagara streets in Tonawanda on Sunday as vendors fried food and set up carnival games.
North Tonawanda resident Steven Tiefert, 29, said this was his fourth year returning to the festival. He and Lockport resident Rebecca Davis, 33, wandered down the street "people watching."
It was the food and games that attracted Tonawanda resident Amanda Blazina, 17, and Kenmore resident Chrissy Giroux, 18, to the event. They sat on a Webster Street bridge eating a heaping pile of ribbon-cut fries from a paper plate.
"We come every year," said Giroux, who planned to return several times this week to meet with friends.
Brittany Clontz, 18, of Tonawanda, found herself busier than ever at this year's festival after winning the Canal Fest Queen pageant last week. Clontz greeted visitors Sunday with a five-inch crown, a long sash and a red dress. She entered the contest on a whim and didn't expect to win.
"I was shocked," said Clontz, who will enter her sophomore year studing biology at the University of Pittsburgh this fall.
Even before winning the pageant, Clontz had planned to attend the annual festival.
"The communities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda are small, so you know everyone," Clontz said. "You always see a familiar face. I think the environment is really great for the community."