Niska-Day taking on a circus atmosphere

Hillside Elementary School is represented in the Niska Day Parade on Grand Boulevard in Niskayuna Saturday, May 17, 2014. (Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer)Hillside Elementary School is represented in the Niska Day Parade on Grand Boulevard in Niskayuna Saturday, May 17, 2014. (Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer)

Saturday’s celebration boasts a Big Top theme

Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA — Getting ready for Niskayuna’s annual town festival is always a little like a three-ring circus, with volunteers juggling everything from musicians and petting zoo animals to fireworks and carnival rides.

This year, though, co-chair Denise Leader, who works alongside her husband, Bill, said the team worked together as perfectly as practiced acrobats to pull together Niska-Day 34: Under the Big Top.

The event, whose theme this year revolves around the circus, will begin with a fun run at Van Antwerp Middle School at 8 a.m. As always, the parade will come next, traveling from St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church on Union Street to the Niskayuna Co-Op. And festivities will continue into the night, finishing with entertainment by a Beatles tribute band and a fireworks display.

“It’s going very well,” said Leader, who has co-chaired the event in some capacity for the past 20 years. She and her husband have headed it up together for about 15 years, some years sharing the management workload with other volunteers.

After working on the event so long, she said, she no longer loses any sleep over preparation.

“We had our last meeting on Monday night,” she said “We were done with the meeting in an hour.”

Things will be about the same as they typically are, with entertainment for families throughout the day. Clowns, balloon animals and face painting fit the theme, but even if red noses and big shoes freak you out a bit, other options abound: Zumba, karate lessons, rock wall climbing, and entertainment by student groups like the Niskayuna High School Studio Singers are just a few.

There is one change. Instead of setting up in the biggest tent, the final band of the night will play near the soccer field, where people have a tendency to stake out firework seats long before the first rocket goes off.

“They’ll play to the crowd,” Leader said.

After two decades of working on the event, Leader said the part she most looks forward to is watching old friends reconnect and families mature.

“I just get a lot of excitement over seeing the people come and have a good time and connect with friends and neighbors,” she said. “This is the 34th year so we’ve got a whole generation of kids who were young when Niska-Day first started, and now they’re back with their families.

“My own kids, they come and hook up with friends and take the kids to the playground,” she added. “It’s a multigenerational thing.”

And it grows all the time. Throughout the day, Leader said she expects 10,000 visitors to come and go from the fairgrounds at Craig Elementary School, the parade route, and the fireworks display. Families often walk home for a meal, then come back for more fun.

“They make the most of it,” she said. “It’s only one day a year.”