Bayfest celebrates ‘Spirit of Sheepshead Bay’ after two-year pause

The Bergen County Firefighters Pipe Band performs with The Shots at BayFest 2022, celebrating the people and history of Sheepshead Bay.
Photo by Mike Beitchman

The “Spirit of Sheepshead Bay” was on full display on Sunday, May 15 as locals and visitors alike celebrated the triumphant return of the waterfront nabe’s biggest party of the year: Bayfest.

“It was great,” said Steve Barrison of the Bay Improvement Group, which puts on the annual event. Bayfest began as a way to mark the start of the fishing season in southern Brooklyn — a tradition that dates back to the 1800’s, when locals would bless the incoming fleets.

Over the years, as the number of boats on the waterfront decreased, BayFest carried the torch, continuing to host a big part on the water to welcome warmer weather, and celebrate the community.

Bayfest 2022 marked the group’s first big event since the coronavirus pandemic shut things down in 2020. And while things were scaled back (there wasn’t as much seating to promote social distancing, and musical performances were limited to just one stage, as opposed to multiple in years past), Barrison said this year went off without a hitch.

steve barrison at bayfest
Steve Barrison of the Bay Improvement Group at BayFest 2022.Photo by Mike Beitchman

“We normally spend 10 to 11 months planning BayFest, but this year, we weren’t sure what we could do because of COVID,” he told Brooklyn Paper. “So what we normally do in a year, we pulled together in just 60 days.”

Thanks to an overwhelming amount of community support, the 29th annual BayFest featured six full hours of free music and fun, including musical performances, activities and displays for passersby of all ages and raffle and giveaways galore.

Of particular note to Barrison was the event’s tribute to Ukraine, where many who reside in Sheepshead Bay have friends and family on the front lines of the ongoing war with Russia.

bayfest ukraine booth
BayFest-goers and volunteers pose with a table showing support for Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Steve Barrison

“Our Ukrainian performers blew everyone away,” said Barrison, noting that the performers didn’t even get to prepare much for the big performance. “But they went up there, performed together and put on just a beautiful show for people. It was amazing.”

Also worth mentioning, he said, was the dedication from local sponsors who’ve helped see BayFest through year after year — even on short notice.

“Of course there are all the big-name sponsors, but then you’ve got your local businesses,” Barrison said. “Take Knapp Street Deli and Bagel for instance. They were our first supporter at our very first BayFest meeting back in 1992. They’ve been supplying bagels, coffee and money ever since — you can’t beat that sense of community.”

Main sponsors this year included Kings Auto Group, National Grid, Investor’s Bank, Bright Horizons Realty and St. Mark/St. Margaret Mary RRC. There were close to 100 other supporting businesses and community groups, including V&S Pizzeria, the Kings Bay Y, Jimmy’s Famous Heros and more.

ukrainian band playing violin and accordion at bayfest
Valeriy and Andrei, a Ukrainian pop band.Photo by Mike Beitchman
bayfest bouncy house
Families of all ages enjoyed the 29th annual BayFest in Sheepshead Bay on Saturday, May 15. Steve Barrison

“Everybody helped out,” Barrison said, giving praise to this year’s volunteers, who he said did double the work to ensure the event’s success. “That’s what coming together and community is all about.”

The Bay Improvement Group — which goes by “BIG” — bills itself as a “broad coalition of people, businesses, groups and leaders” who for more than three decades have dedicated themselves to the future preservation, revitalization and comprehensive planning of Sheepshead Bay.

Its biggest event of the year, BayFest, started as a two-hour guitar concert on Driscoll Tucker Place in 1992 that attracted just 50 people. Since then, the free event has grown into a day-long entertainment extravaganza.

This year’s musical performances included the Ukrainian tribute, the national anthem as sung by Nini Bregvadze, and sets by The Shots, The Locals and the Bergen County Firefighters Pipe Band.

“You can’t get better than the music we had this year,” Barrison said, noting that a joint performance by the Bergen County Firefighters Pipe Band and The Shots was “mindblowingly awesome.”

police officer with ukrainian flag at bayfest
A police officer at BayFest shows support for Ukraine.Photo by Mike Beitchman
woman and man wave ukrainian flag at bayfest
Wendy Marie and Rich at this year’s 29th annual BayFest.Photo by Mike Beitchman

Looking ahead, Barrison and the Bay Improvement Group hope next year’s milestone BayFest is even bigger and better than ever — and, so far, that’s the plan.

“For our tenth anniversary, we had ten bands, so we did 20 bands on our 20th, and so on,” Barrison told Brooklyn Paper. “We’re gonna do 30 bands for our 30th year, and hopefully get back to our eight or so stages, and really blow everything out of the water.”

As for this year, he said simply, “People who didn’t come to BayFest this year missed out.”

For more information or to help support BayFest, visit BigBayFest.com.