Festivals in The Villages are returning for the season, and several have a new look. Starting with the Heritage Festival this week, special events on the squares are back. The Villages Entertainment has planned more than 10 festivals for residents to enjoy this year, such as Nightmare on Meggison for Halloween, the Tree Lighting Festivals and Menorah Lighting for the holiday season, the Strawberry Festival in February and a St. Patrick’s Day Festival. All of the events will take place at one or more of the three Villages town squares — Spanish Springs Town Square, Lake Sumter Landing Market Square and Brownwood Paddock Square. The festivals are “a great way for residents to get out and experience something new and fun,” said Chalsi Goheen, special events manager for The Villages Entertainment. “They see our nightly entertainment every night, so doing the festivals adds a different experience on the squares.”
This season’s special events are getting revamped, and the first updates come in the Heritage Festival, scheduled for Tuesday at Spanish Springs and Thursday at Brownwood.
This new festival combines the former Italian Festival and Oktoberfest events and will celebrate many more nationalities around the world.
“Our goal is to encompass a wide range of nationalities that we find here in The Villages, so I think it’s important to give everyone an event where they can experience their heritage,” Goheen said.
The Heritage Festival at Spanish Springs will still include the Italian-German Parade and celebrate European and South American countries and cultures. The parade kicks off at 3:15 p.m., and the rest of the festival will go from 4 to 9 p.m.
The live musical entertainment is the Global Distinction Band with Clark Barrios, and performances include the Silver Rockettes, the Spanish Folkloric Dance Troupe, the Prime Time Twirlers and The Villages Twirlers and Drum Corps.
The festival at Brownwood will feature North American, Asian, African and Australian cultures. Attendees will get a feel of the different countries and cultures from 4 to 9 p.m. through performances, entertainment, vendors and food trucks.
The live musical entertainment is the 7 Wonder World Band with Clark Barrios, and performances include the Silver Rockettes and the Spanish Folkloric Dance Troupe.
“I think it’s going to be a fun experience for everyone,” Goheen said.
For several years, many festivals on the squares have remained the same. This year, multiple changes have been made, including some name changes, along with new vendors, decor, food trucks, entertainment and activities.
“My goal is to ensure our residents that we are changing, and we are reformatting our events and bringing new experiences to our events,” Goheen said.
Additional festivals and events are currently in the process of being approved, she said.
The upcoming Nightmare on Meggison event is another newly revamped event. Scheduled for Oct. 25 at Brownwood, it replaces the former Sleepy Holloween Town event.
Nightmare on Meggison will feature a haunted house, a corn maze, a trunk ’n’ treat for children, carnival games, a tarot card reader and a costume contest.
The trunk ’n’ treat is for children 12 and under and will be open from 3 to 9 p.m. The corn maze and carnival games will be open from 3 to 9 p.m., and the haunted house is open from 6 to 9 p.m., according to The Villages Entertainment website.
The holiday Tree Lighting Festivals will feature a new projector light show at all three locations.
VIP passes are another new festival feature. The initiative for the passes started at the All American Brews and Cruise event on July 4 and will be available for the Heritage Festival at Brownwood, Nightmare on Meggison and the Brownwood and Lake Sumter Landing Tree Lighting Festivals.
Holders of VIP passes will have direct access to the square and enjoy catered food and seating in front of the main entertainment acts.
“It is the whole upgraded experience for people wanting a special kind of experience at the festivals,” Goheen said.
While many updates have been made for the special events, other components will remain the same.
Market Nights still will be held on Tuesdays at Spanish Springs, Wednesdays at Lake Sumter Landing and Thursdays at Brownwood. Villagers also can expect to see the Farmers Market at Brownwood on Saturdays.
Multiple Monday and Friday Night Car Shows also are planned during the next several months, along with a few Saturday Cruise In events.
Several of the performances and entertainment featured at the festivals will still be from Villages-based groups, some of which have performed at the festivals for several years.
The Villages Twirlers and Drum Corps group has participated in festivals for about 15 years, said Kathy Kendall, lieutenant of the group.
“It’s just fun to get dressed up and twirl and be a part of something,” said Kendall, of the Village of Hadley.
The group will perform at several of this season’s festivals, including two Tree Lighting Festivals and the Heritage Festival at Spanish Springs.
For the Heritage festival, the group will represent Germany in the parade and will wear outfits similar to those worn in the country. During the festival itself, the members will represent France and put on a “Phantom of the Opera” performance on the square.
The Prime Time Twirlers Group has performed at the festivals for 13 years, said Elin Jones, director and captain of the group.
“It is such an honor to be able to perform for our residents, to give back because we have a talent and we can entertain and make people happy,” the Village of Mallory Square resident said. “I’ve always felt over the years, every time that I go out there with my team, it is thrilling.”
The group is performing at the Tree Lighting Festival at Brownwood, the St. Patrick’s Day Festival at Lake Sumter Landing and the Heritage Festival at Spanish Springs.
For the Heritage Festival, the Prime Time Twirlers will represent Scotland. They will dance to several songs including “Scotland the Brave” and “Strip the Willow.”
“It’s going to be lots of fun,” Jones said.
For more information on upcoming festivals and special events on the squares, visit thevillagesentertainment.com.
Staff Writer Summer Jarro can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5404, or email@example.com.