Arts & Entertainment

Heights Fest: 'Where Old Friends Came Home To'

The Highlander Girl Pipers held their reunion performance at Heights Fest on Saturday, Aug. 16 at Mount Carmel Field in Berkeley Heights Credits: Bobbie Peer

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Heights Fest 2014 brought hundreds together Saturday at Mount Carmel Field in Berkeley Heights to enjoy live music and reminisce amongst friends that have a connection to Berkeley Heights.

Heights Fest originated in 2012 resulting from comments made in the Facebook group 'You Know You're From Berkeley Heights When', said event co-organizer Mickey Manganelli.

Berkeley Heights has a mix of community events in their annual calendar -- the Rubber Ducky Race, three annual 5K runs, Summer Concert Series and the Mount Carmel Feast - however,  event co-organizer Jim Skidmore was looking for an "old school" reunion style event bringing friends, old and new, together to celebrate living in Berkeley Heights. 

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People connecting through the power of social media -- it was evident, there was a demand for a second Heights Fest.  After the first fest was interrupted by the monsoon-like conditions, people were ready for an amazing event under clear skies.  

"Raising as much money is key," said Skidmore, who is passionate about the two causes the event benefits. "To me, it's a festival of love for six people I know struggling with breast cancer and I know people that are homeless," said Skidmore. Proceeds from the event benefit the American Cancer Society and Family Promise, which helps support the homeless of Union County. 

 "I also don't mind playing guitar and having fun.  I like to see all of the friends come together," said Skidmore.

Skidmore and Manganelli joined their band, Squirrel, and jammed on stage, entertaining the crowd with classic rock cover songs from their high school era.

Heights Fest was the befitting venue of choice for the GL Highlander Girl Pipers' reunion performance.  Karen Haase-Gray, who plays snare drum, was instrumental in organizing the piper band reunion. The band had not performed together in 40 years. Their members traveled from as far as Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Connecticut. 

The band was a big part of our lives in high school, said Haase-Gray. "As a pipe band, we were very competitive," --  winning the Highland Games, as an all girls band, was a big feat during a time that "all girl" bands were not common. 

Haase-Gray designed the "Raging Cougars Pipes & Drums, GL Highlander Girl Pipers Reunion Band" banner that hung from the group's canopy. Kiddingly, Haase-Gray explained the name was symbolic of their being an all women band now playing in their "cougar" years. Although, they did have a few male pipers, including a few of their husbands, playing in Saturday's performance.

The live music entertainment kept the crowd rocking all night long, playing a wide variety of cover songs ranging from Rolling Stones, Beatles, Blondie, Heart, Squeeze, Elton John, Eagles, Joe Walsh -- to an acoustic rendition of Purple Rain and closing the fest with Southern Rock classics. 

Mount Carmel Field was lined with vendors and fest supporters including Berkeley Heights' own Pete's Place, who grilled burgers, sausages, along with pork sliders; Fresh Squeezed Lemonade; Kettle Corn; Starbucks and the infamous Johnny Meatball Food Truck. TMC's Boutique, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Stella & Dot, Kayla's Creative Art Studio, Massage Envy, Thrive with Jodie, Wharton Music Center, Laura's Dance Studio and the Game Truck were some of the local businesses that participated in support of the event.  The Berkeley Heights Volunteer Rescue Squad was also on hand.  

In Berkeley Heights fashion, the event concluded with a firework "extravaganza" by Garden State Fireworks and the Santore family.

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