There is little question Bridgeport native Frank Carroll is putting his personal stamp on his position as ringmaster of the 64th Annual Barnum Festival. Carroll was chosen ringmaster in August 2011 and succeeds Armando Goncalves, who was last year’s ringmaster.
By being chosen, the 2012 ringmaster has also helped make history. For the first time since the inaugural event in 1948, three brothers have served as ringmaster. Billy Carroll held the reins in 1988, and Charlie Carroll served in the position in 1999.
Frank Carroll is the international vice president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and is no stranger to festival hoopla, having served as grand marshal of the 2011 Bridgeport St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Now a resident of Shelton, this year’s ringmaster plans to embrace the Barnum Festival by celebrating his Bridgeport roots.
“Anybody that had the pleasure and the opportunity to grow up in Bridgeport should make an effort to become fully involved in the 2012 Barnum Festival,” Frank Carroll stressed. “Those who grow up in this city in the 1950s and ’60s know how special it was.”
Carroll believes the Barnum Festival is one of the major yearly cultural events in the state and he intends to promote the extravaganza in just that fashion.
“There are those who come back from New York and Philadelphia every year to participate in the festival,” he said. “This is more than a parade, although this year’s parade is going to be great. The festival provides amazing culture through many events and brings tremendous excitement to the entire region.”
To that end, the ringmaster believes this year’s Champions on Parade will be one of the most memorable in Barnum Festival history. The annual event features the top drum corps in the nation and will be held at Kennedy Stadium, Saturday, June 30, at 6 p.m.
Among those who will perform at Champions on Parade are the Minnesota Brass, Reading Buccaneers, Hawthorne Caballeros, Connecticut Hurricanes, Empire Statesmen and the Bushwackers.
“This will be one of the best Champions on Parade ever,” he stressed. “The quality of the drum corps we have coming to Bridgeport is absolutely top notch. This will definitely be a signature event.”
One of the newer events that has become quite popular is the annual Kentucky Derby Party, which will be held on Derby Day, Saturday, May 5, at the Mill River Country Club in Stratford. The party features a country buffet dinner, a Ladies Hat Contest, mint juleps and, of course, the Run for the Roses.
“”It’s just a wonderfully festive event,” said the ringmaster. “The atmosphere is about as close as you can get other than actually being at the Kentucky Derby.”
This year’s Barnum Festival will have a touch of sadness attached to it as Frank Carroll all too well knows. Former Ringmaster Rick Porto passed away on Feb. 29, leaving a void in the Festival family that cannot be filled.
“Rick Porto was what Bridgeport was all about,” said the 2012 ringmaster. “Rick was a city-of- Bridgeport guy; he was what Bridgeport was all about. Rick used to like to say he was from the University of the Street and that degree was more valuable than a master’s degree from the Harvard Business School.”
Porto was a master painter and decorator and owned a business on Brewster Street in the Black Rock section of the city. He was the Republican candidate for mayor in 1987 and was the city’s longtime parks director. Porto served as ringmaster in 2006 and created the annual Jenny Lind at the Swedish Singing Society Norden Club annual event that year.
“Ricky did so much for the Barnum Festival that he never wanted publicized,” said Carroll. “Particularly with Seniors Dance. He wanted to make sure the seniors were an important part of the festival.”
Knowing that the Barnum Festival could not possibly be a success without a solid crew of volunteers, Carroll was quick to sing the praises of the host of area residents who have given their time to this year’s festivities.
“Those people who work behind the scenes have been outstanding,” he said. “They bring a passion to every single event, and along with everyone who attends the Barnum Festival events all I can say about them all is together we make a difference.”
Other events of the 2012 Barnum Festival schedule include: the Jenny Lind Competition for Sopranos, Saturday, April 21, at 1 p.m. at the Bernhard Center at the University of Bridgeport; the Wing Ding Parade, Saturday, June 16, at Beardsley Park; the Ringmaster’s Golf Classic, Thursday, June 21, at 11 a.m. at Fairchild Wheeler; Barnum Sails the Sound, Saturday, June 23, at 5 p.m. at the Port Jefferson Ferry; the Greatest Car Show on Earth, Sunday, June 24, at 8 a.m. at Hillcrest Middle School in Trumbull; Taste of Bridgeport and The Jenny Lind Concert, Thursday, June 28, at 5 p.m. the Bijou Theater; Skyblast Party at Seaside Park, Friday, June 29, at 6:30 p.m.; Jenny Lind at the Swedish Singing Society Norden Club, Saturday, June 30, at 2 p.m.; and the Great Street Parade, which kicks off on Sunday, July 1 at 11 a.m.