IF YOU GO
What: WaterFire Sharon
Where: The festival takes place on East State Street and Chestnut Street in Sharon
When: Saturday, starting at 2 p.m. and last fire performance begins at 10:45 p.m.
Details: Free parking is available at a half-dozen parking lots in the downtown area. Check the walking map on waterfiresharonpa.org to see where they are, and also for information on the detour caused by work on South Dock Street.
Next WaterFire events: Aug. 18 and Sept. 22
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
WaterFire Sharon will return Saturday, bringing with it a 30-foot dragon that will shimmer and slither on the Shenango River.
It promises to be one of many magical moments that day.
WaterFire is the arts and culture festival that takes place in the downtown area three times every summer. Each festival has its own theme, and Saturday’s is – befittingly – “Magical Moments.”
Now in its sixth year, the festival has cemented its place in the Mahoning and Shenago valleys, and far beyond.
One of the best-attended festivals in the area, WaterFire organizers expect to attract about 15,000 people for Saturday’s event.
The final two WaterFires – Aug. 18 and Sept. 22 this year – always draw about 12,000.
Each event draws people from up to 100 miles away.
“We have a big draw from Pittsburgh,” said Karen Anderson, director of the festival. “It’s one of our largest markets. Most of them drive up and spend a night and make a weekend out of it. We also draw a lot from Youngstown and Erie, and some as far as Cleveland. It’s a very regional event.”
The dragon will make its first appearance this year to the family-friendly, alcohol-free event. It will be brought to life by operators on kayaks on the river as part of the lighting ritual at dusk.
The festival takes place on East State Street and Chestnut Street, which will be closed to traffic, and surrounding open spaces.
Free parking is available at a half-dozen parking lots in the downtown area. Check the walking map on waterfiresharonpa.org to see where they are, and also for information on the detour caused by work on South Dock Street.
WaterFire, which starts at 2 p.m., will have a food court, an expanded kids zone, more than 50 artists and a variety of performers, including aerialist Diane Zizka, plus art installations throughout the downtown.
There also will be plenty of live music, with 2nd Avenue Project (3-5 p.m.), the Vindys (6-8 p.m.) and Rudy and the Professionals (9:45-11:15 p.m.) on the East Stage, and the Boardman Jazz Ensemble (3:30-5:30 p.m.) and the Spotted Owl Swing Band (6:15-8:15 p.m.) on the River Stage.
The lighting ceremony is the undisputed highlight of the day, a serious spectacle of sight and sound that takes place on the river in the area just north of the State Street Bridge.
In the ritual, fire tenders on boats light dozens of wood-filled braziers anchored to the surface of the Shenango River, creating a mesmerizing sight.
Fire performers and musical artists Dan and Briana and Two Guitars will perform on a boat on the river between 9:30 and 10:45 p.m.
The dragon also will appear at this time.
WaterFire festivals take place in a handful of cities across the globe, with Sharon being the smallest by far. The other cities are Rome, Singapore, Columbus, Kansas City and Providence, R.I.
WaterFire Sharon debuted in 2013 to much fanfare and press coverage, and drew huge crowds.
“The attendance has since evened out and is steady with no big fluctuations,” said Anderson, noting “last year’s was the biggest since the first year.”
Anderson calls it a world-class event.
“It is an experience,” she said.