Preparation is a key word for the Cranston Greek Festival, which will open its 34th annual three-day stay Friday at 5 p.m. at the Church of the Annunciation’s spacious grounds at 175 Oaklawn Ave.
The focus on getting ready for the celebration has perhaps been made most clear through the work of the Greek Orthodox parish’s “Volunteer Baking Brigade,” which has made roughly 35,000 pieces of pastry for patrons to enjoy.
In all, more than 200 parishioners will help produce what was once a one-day picnic and has grown into a three-day event that – weather permitting – will attract more than 32,000 visitors to the spacious grounds.
There will be live Greek music, a children’s area with free face painting, a bounce house, church tours, Orthodox services, video presentations and a raffle that offers a unique $5,000 travel package to anywhere in the world.
“Our parishioners take great pride and offer wonderful hospitality to festival attendees and enjoy sharing their Greek traditions,” said the Rev. Andrew George, Church of the Annunciation’s pastor.
In keeping with tradition, among the festival’s highlights will be five performances from the acclaimed Odyssey Dance Troupe. The group has practiced for countless hours to perfect its routines, which will be performed in costumes representing various villages in Greece.
The Odyssey Dance Troupe, which has been a proud tradition since being founded by Koula Rougas in 1984, will make its 2019 debut Friday at 7 p.m. It will then put performances at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.
“We’re a Greek folk dance troupe that began with only eight children,” Dr. Stephen Rougas said during a recent rehearsal. “The goal and purpose of the group was, and continues to be, to unite the youth and young adults of our Rode Island community in a fun, non-competitive environment which promotes the Greek heritage.”
Rougas, who serves as co-director and works with the dancers to prepare the troupe’s shows, noted: “When my mother [Koula] founded the troupe back in 1984, there were only eight children; now we have 90 volunteers ages 6 and up.”
The Odyssey Dance Troupe, which always draws rave reviews for its performances and colorful costumes, performs at various functions across Rhode Island and New England, including cultural festivals, weddings, baptisms, conferences and parades.
Back in 2005, the Odyssey Dance Troupe had the honor of representing Rhode Island in the 100th anniversary of The Epiphany Celebration in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
“It was an honor for our troupe to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime occasion as well as to represent our state in the national celebration which was broadcast worldwide,” Koula Rougas said.
In terms of other attractions during the festival, George also issued an invitation to attendees to tour the church and view improvements to its interior and exterior.
The church, he said, is open during the full festival hours for prayers and tours that are given at designated times. There is an evening service at 6 p.m.
“Please, before or after you enjoy some of our great Greek foods and pastries, come into the church and see that changes we’ve made,” he said.
The Rev. Nicholas Lanzourakis, a native of Chicago and Church of the Annunciation’s assistant pastor, said the local festival compares quite favorably to Greek celebrations in other parts of the country.
“Chicago is a big haven of Greek immigrants to America and has many festivals. I actually attended Cranston’s festival last year as a layman before my ordination and assignment here. I was blown off my feet … I especially like the setup of the property and festival tents, how everything evolves around the church, the church being in the center of all festivities,” he said.
The Cranston Greek Festival’s hours are Friday, 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 9 p.m.
Additional parking is available at Cranston High School West, and shuttle buses leave every 10 minutes until a half hour after closing.