WaterFire Sharon burning brighter on fewer nights
Thursday, July 25, 2019
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
WaterFire is already among the most well-attended festivals in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, and it’s about to get bigger.
The unique daylong arts and culture street fest in downtown Sharon – known for its transfixing fire-lighting ritual on the Shenango River at dusk – draws about 15,000 people to its first event each summer, with slightly less for the second and third.
But starting this year, WaterFire is paring down to only two events, the first of which is Saturday.
The purpose, according to festival director Karen Anderson, is to better maintain the quality of the WaterFire experience.
2:30-4:30 p.m.: Blue Fish Jam (blues, rock, jazz)
6-8 p.m.: The Buffetman Band (Jimmy Buffett tribute show)
9:30-11 p.m.: Cin City and the Saints (classic rock, Motown, oldies)
3:30-5 p.m.: PanTropix (Caribbean steel drums)
6-8 p.m.: Erie Heights Brass Ensemble
8 p.m.: Ally Grande
The effect has been to create more of a sense of urgency to attend.
Anderson said she expects to break last year’s attendance mark, and has already noticed an increase in interest. Sharon, she pointed out, is the only city that has more than one WaterFire each year – with the exception of Providence, R.I., where the festival began, which has it almost every weekend.
A six-person staff does the majority of the planning and organizing of the Sharon events, which are then overseen by about 200 volunteers on festival dates.
Maintaining that number of volunteers will also become easier with only two festivals. “We had been taking three weekends over a 10-week span, and that is a lot,” said Anderson.
The second and final WaterFire will take place Sept. 21.
This Saturday’s event, which runs from 2 to 11 p.m., will feature more than 50 artists and artisans showing and selling their works, live music on two stages, an expanded children’s fun zone, a food court and a history walking tour. Admission is free.
But what sets WaterFire – now in its seventh year – apart from all other festivals is its primal fire-lighting ritual at dusk.
Summoned by music, festivalgoers gather along the river as dusk approaches to watch the fire ceremony and then the lighting of dozens of wood-burning braziers anchored on the surface of the Shenango River. It has a tribal atmosphere that seems to unite all who view it.
WaterFire organizers always give each festival its own theme, and Saturday’s will be “Beach Bash.”
The musical acts will manifest the beach theme, with PanTropix, a Caribbean steel drum ensemble, performing on the River Stage from 3:30 to 5 p.m.
The Buffetman Band – a Jimmy Buffet tribute act – will play on the East stage from 6 to 8 p.m.
“Last September, we had Beatlemania as a theme, with the tribute band Beatlemania,” said Anderson. “We drew a new mix of people and the vendors were happy.”
The children’s fun zone will be located on West State Street, near Reyer’s. It will feature a bounce house, musical activities, coloring books and craft-making.
Permanent public art pieces by area group Random Acts of Artists have become part of WaterFire, The group’s sculpture known as “The Can Opener” at the Reyer’s Building has been repaired and cleaned and will be rededicated at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Immediately afterward, Random Acts’ new “labyrinth” painting in front of Reyer’s will be unveiled.
Among the interesting side attractions this year is the Sharon History Walk, which will take place at noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. and is free.
Those interested in participating are asked to meet at the Community Action Partnership building, which is on the roundabout on Dock Street, before each tour. Stops will include the Apollo Maennerchor, Flower Lumber Co. and a few other businesses and houses along the street.