Smoke on the Water (9/28/13)
When my Providence friend suggested we attend something called Water Fire in his Rhode Island town, he described it as “a night out in the city with campfires on the river.” My mind fondly recalled college keggers, where we sat around bonfires in the middle of the woods and drank until it became difficult to walk back to our dorms. Not knowing what to expect, but trusting his judgment for fun things for me to do, I agreed to the itinerary. We were already booked for a Fountains of Wayne/Soul Asylum show at Boston’s Paradise Club and a day on Block Island for lighthouse photo ops (see part 2), so I figured it was a safe bet.
Now what I had envisioned and what we experienced were two vastly different things. I expected to see fires built along the banks of the river…not in the river! Thousands of people turned out, typical from what I was told, to take in the sights and sounds of this distinctive fall evening. And there were fires, hundreds of fires, illuminating the waterway that transverses one of the oldest of American cities.
The flames were constantly tended by groups of volunteers who cruised by in firewood-stocked boats to maintain a consistent blaze at each pot. These vessels jockeyed for water space with many more small, rented kayaks adorned with illuminated fish overhead. I thought it all seemed a bit beyond the scope of any fire codes that surely exist in a city filled with so much valuable antique--and flammable--architecture.
The throng that disguised the city’s challenged economic times lined the river, eating local fare, buying souvenirs, and watching performers toss flames about with acrobatic precision. As we made our way along the water, I noticed various genres of music emanating from under the bridges. Certain songs seemed gift-wrapped for the many young lovers strolling about, their eyes reflecting the flames and glazing with the sheer joy of it all.
A bit more wandering about brought us to one of the tunnels that open and close along the river. In one, a thousand tiles produced by school students proclaimed sentiments of 9/11. It was surely an example of quantity over quality, as several of the contributions were either nonsensical or even irreverent. Perhaps it was by design. Regardless, the city glowed with the unseasonable warmth fueled by the nurtured flames.
I’ve never seen anything quite like Water Fire. My hometown of Pittsburgh, like other cities, has its “Light-up Nights” for special occasions (like holidays and playoff games), but this was different. The sense of community I felt was palpable and special, and the warmth of the people matched the heat coming off the river. If you’re ever near this self-proclaimed “Creative Capital,” be sure to catch the fire!
(Next week: Part 2: "Sound of Lights")