When 2023 Barnum Festival Ringmaster George Estrada was a kid growing up in Bridgeport, he always looked forward to the Parade of Champions drum and bugle corps performing at Kennedy Stadium.
The beat of the drums and the blare of horns thrilled him, the roar of the spectators crowded into the stadium awed him. As a kid, he became hooked on the Barnum Festival and his enthusiasm has endured ever since.
Please join us in welcoming George as this year’s Barnum Festival Ringmaster!
Fast forward to the present, Estrada now wears the Ringmaster’s red jacket and finds it a perfect fit as he slipped it on at his inauguration announcement August 23rd at Tashua Knolls Restaurant, marking the Festival’s 75th year.
A lifelong Bridgeport resident and the 73rd Ringmaster, Estrada welcomes the challenge as the Festival returns to a full slate of events for the first time since the Covid epidemic hit in 2020. Under Ringmaster Frank T. Gennarini, the Festival returned last year with a successful, but abridged schedule of events.
“I’ve only been on the job for a brief time, but I’m amazed as the response of people who have offered to participate in next year’s Festival,” Estrada said. “I’m very optimistic about the Festival’s future from the outpouring of support I’ve received. People are excited to bring back all the traditional events.”
Ringmaster Frank T. Gennarini (2019-2022), who oversaw the reemergence of the Festival last year, applauded the selection of Estrada.
“I couldn’t be happier for George and his family,” Gennarini said. “He’s been a valuable asset for the Festival, and I’m sure will do a great job because of his passion for it.”
After thirty years as a Festival volunteer along with his wife, Rita, Estrada knows the demands of being a Ringmaster, which he witnessed firsthand. In 2001, he was named volunteer of the year.
“We want to honor the Festival’s past and look forward to the future,” Estrada said. “I can only do that with the support of volunteers and the Greater Bridgeport community. The Festival is back bigger and better than ever.”
That means a return of traditional events, such as the Wing Ding Parade for children and the Road Show, offering fun and entertainment to area nursing home residents.
The father of two children Estrada sees parallels between the origin of the Festival in 1948 and today’s challenging mood. The Festival emerged in response to an economic downturn in the community post WWII. Today, the Covid epidemic and troublesome inflation has deflated community spirit. Enter the reemergence of the complete schedule of Festival events to promote that community spirit and spread fun.
Because most of the Festival events are free to the public, Estrada knows how critical sponsor support is. He plans to contact traditional sponsors and search for new sources of revenue. As Director of Public Works for Trumbull and former Bridgeport Director of Facilities, he’s managed hundreds of employees and budgets of several million dollars.
“Banking and manufacturing have traditionally been the backbone of support for the Festival,” he explained. “Of course, the community changes, but there are still many families and individuals around who grew up with the Festival and are still willing to help.”
To draw community wide support, Estrada thinks it’s essential to host Festival events in many towns in the Greater Bridgeport area. While Bridgeport still remains the focus of the Festival, there’s the Car Show in Monroe and events in the planning stage in Fairfield, Trumbull, and other towns.
“The goal is to provide grassroots event in many neighboring towns to create community spirit and fun,” Estrada said.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Estrada, 61, also looks to increase the support of the Hispanic population in the area. In a recent interview on Bomba Radio, he told listeners in Spanish how the Festival and the Puerto Rican Day Parade have historically cooperated with each other in building and sharing floats and will look for even more Hispanic community participation. In addition, many area Hispanics have served as Festival volunteers for years.
The Festival has likewise worked with the Juneteenth committee to support its parade and festivities and relied on many African-American volunteers to organize and chair events.
“The minority populations are major players in the Bridgeport area. I hope to tap into their support even more in 2023,” Estrada said.
The Ringmaster also looks to stir even more participation from the Irish and Italian communities, which are among the original supporters of the Festival. Estrada recently spoke to the Council of Italian-American Societies of Greater Bridgeport, which has pledged its support for 2023. Estrada also expects similar support from the Gaelic community of which his father-in-law Christopher C. Kinsella Sr was a founding member of the Gaelic-American Club in Fairfield.
“Connecting with both the Italian and Gaelic communities is a no brainer,” said Estrada. “They’ve always been there for us, and I’m confident they will be again. The Italian and Gaelic community is an integral component of the fabric of the regional community.”
Growing up in Bridgeport and being a 30-year Festival volunteer, Estrada knows how important the Festival is the Greater Bridgeport area, perhaps more than ever because of the challenges of the pandemic and downturn of the economy. It’s now his time to build on that 75 years of history.
“The biggest challenge is reenergizing the community coming out the pandemic. We want to include all the area communities. That’s what the Festival is all about.”