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Rochester Festival Guide: Summer Highlights for 2014

by Chantelle April 2014 - last edited September

Rochester Festival Guide | Lilac Fest

Rochester folks take festival season very seriously. With over 140 events throughout the summer, visitors to ‘Flower City’ won’t struggle to occupy themselves during their stay. Follow our Rochester festival guide to the summer highlights for 2014 and some of the biggest dates worth marking in your diary. Take a look at our Rochester festival guide for the city's top events.


Rochester Lilac Festival, 9-18 May

Rochester Festival Guide| Lilac Festival Parade

Televised parade at the Lilac Festival © Willy Ochaya/Flickr

For 10 whole days in May, the famous Highland Park is transformed into Rochester’s cultural capital. Celebrating the Lilac collection – a rare assortment of fragrant flowers and the largest collection in the US – the festival ushers in springtime with a bang. First up, work your way around the expansive floral gardens via a self-guided tour where you’ll have plenty of stunning photo opportunities. Then fill the rest of the day with the abundance of fun and entertaining activities on the bulging festival schedule. Choose from the Lilac Parade on the 10 May, which is televised across local cable channels, to the Art and Craft Show where over 120 artists, artisans and designers gather to show off their wares. Food and drink connoisseurs should visit the big top for the decadent wine and chocolate tasting or kick back in the craft beer garden and sip on a new brew. On top of all that there will also be a full concert schedule where you’ll be able to enjoy music from many bands local to Rochester and its surrounding areas.

Big Rib BBQ and Blues Fest, 10-13 July

Rochester Festival Guide | Big Rib Porky n' Beans.jpg

Revellers checking out the menus at the Big Rib Fest © Big Rib BBQ and Blues Fest 

You haven’t truly tried ribs unless you’ve ventured to Rochester’s very own Rib Festival. From the scent of succulent meat cooking over scorching coals to the sight of tender pork brisket glistening in the sun, you’ll be salivating at every corner trying to sample all that’s on offer. Watch Rib Masters from all over the U.S. go head-to-head in a bid to be crowned king of the BBQ. If you’re feeling flush, V.I.P. passes get you access into exclusive tents and your pick of an all you can eat buffet of BBQ delicacies with everything from pulled pork and corn bread to brisket and macaroni salad. To compliment the southern vibe there will be a host of top blues bands to provide a fitting soundtrack to your feast.

Rochester International Jazz Festival, 20-28 June

Rochester Festival Guide | John Nugent  at Rochester Jazz Festival

John Nugent serenading the streets © Tomas Flint for the Xerox Rochester Internatinoal Jazz Festival

It’s one of the biggest festivals on the calendar, which takes over multiple venues across Rochester’s east end cultural district, and serves up first-class musicians from around the world. Music lovers will be treated to shows from the top names in the business including this year’s headliners Earth, Wind and Fire, alongside smaller free gigs from new emerging artists. So even if you don’t manage to score yourself any highly sought-after tickets, you’ll still be treated to some stellar performances from a number of free jam sessions and street parties and an electrifying atmosphere that remains unrivalled in Rochester.

Corn Hill Arts Festival, 12-13 July

Rochester Festival Guide | Artisan selling at Corn Hill Arts Festival

Artisan seller at the Corn Hill Arts Festival © Corn Hill Arts Festival

Visit Rochester’s premier summertime festival, which celebrates the vibrant art scene within the area. Situated in one of Rochester’s oldest and most beloved neighbourhoods, the free festival has grown to become an important part of the local community. Each year over 400 artists exhibit their work and the juried show draws in artists from all over the U.S. and Canada. More than 200,000 people flock to the area for two days of art, live entertainment and family-friendly fun. Free shuttle buses and riverboat rides make it easy to get to and there’s plenty of information on offer about where to pick up transport on the festival’s official website. So join the crowds and support the local creative community whilst enjoying the affable charm of Rochester’s residents.

ImageOut LGBT Film & Video Festival, 10-19 October


This well established festival from the volunteer organisation Imageout has become a well-respected cultural innovation in Rochester. Throughout the festival’s ten-year history, its organisers have presented thousands of films that celebrate and document the global gay and lesbian community to critical acclaim. Landmark venues across town, including the Dryden Theatre at the renowned George Eastman House and the Little Theatre, situated downtown, host a vast array of screenings and discussion throughout the duration of the festival. Off the back of this far-reaching festival, a number of LGBT cultural programs that promote awareness and education way beyond Rochester have been set up. If you’re an avid fan of cutting edge films then you’ll surely enjoy seeing and hearing from the filmmakers from across the world who take part each year.


Header Image: crowds at a concert for the Lilac Festival © Lilac Festival

Have you visited one of the events featured in our Rochester festival guide? If so tell us your highlights and tips in the comments section below.

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Written by Chantelle Symester

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About the author: Chantelle

Chantelle Symester

Chantelle Symester is a writer and editor based in London. When she’s not chained to her laptop working she can be found hopping on a plane to far flung places across the globe. Trips so far include adventures to Mexico, South America and North Africa and she now has her heart set on discovering the East. You can find her @csymester