WaterFire: Setting the Creative Capital Apart

My sister and a couple of her friends were home from New York this past weekend for Memorial Day, and the weekend was full of relaxing and lounging in the sun but also showing off what Little Rhody has to offer to our guests. And this was a treat for us as well as we made our first trip out to WaterFire in Providence on Saturday night.

photo-21WaterFire is a permanent art installation created by Barnaby Evans on the Woonesquatucket and Providence Rivers. Small bonfires are lit along the rivers on select Saturday nights throughout the summer, illuminating the “Creative Capital” during warm, summer nights.  The show starts after sunset, and it gets pretty crowded (the event can draw tens of thousands of people according to the event’s website), so it’s a good idea to get there a little bit early to scope out a spot to watch from. We got there about half an hour early and found a spot right against the river for a good view, but a woman also squeezed herself right next to me minutes before the show began to get just as good of a view without having to be there early (but having to throw some elbows and getting some glares in return).

The beginning of the show was announced by some very “interesting” music. Quite honestly, the music was eerie and ominous and as I didn’t know what it was all about, it made me feel like I was walking into the Forbidden Forest and not waiting for a light show to start. If you’re going to check WaterFire out, I’d recommend that you read up on some of its history beforehand in order for have a better understanding and appreciation of everything that’s going on. It turns out that the music is meant to represent the different layers of Providence’s history, from Native American roots to the wave of Italian immigrants to the city. The lighting we went to, which was the first of the season, started at 8:07, but it wasn’t for another twenty-five minutes or so of just listening to this music that we actually saw things begin.

photo-22After the music had been playing for a while, a group of people processed down to the water with torches and passed the fire onto groups of people in boats on the water. These boats circled around for a few times with fire dancers until people riding on the boats lit the bonfires and the fires began to grow. A couple of the fires took a while to get going, but as they grew, I began to understand the hubbub surrounding this Providence tradition.

We were watching at Waterplace Park, a circular portion of the rivers near the Providence Place Mall, so it was cool to watch as boats circled around lighting the bonfires one by one until the whole area was illuminated. There were bridges on either end of the place where we stood, and the boats disappeared to the other portions of the river to continue lighting the fires as the show went on. A man in a gondola even came out and handed flowers to people in the audience (at one point he dropped all of them into the water, to the dismay of the woman who stood next to me). photo-20

Overall, I’d say WaterFire is a really beautiful and interesting event to go to. It’s a fun way to get out of the house and go out in Providence, and it’s easy to make a night out of it. I do recommend doing your homework beforehand so that you have a handle on everything that’s going on. It started to rain at one point during the night, and we headed to the Providence Place Mall for shelter (and getting some blizzards from Dairy Queen for the win), but we felt like we would be missing some more of the ceremonies as we didn’t know what exactly went into one of these shows. Although Barnaby Evans has done similar art installations in other cities, the exhibit in Providence is permanent, and I’d say it’s a sight that truly distinguishes Providence.

Correction, May 28: The original post said that WaterFire takes place on the Thames River, which was written by mistake. The show takes place on the Wonnesquatucket and Providence, and the post has been changed to reflect this.

4 thoughts on “WaterFire: Setting the Creative Capital Apart

  1. Thanks for coming to WaterFire and thanks for sharing your experience in this great post! One minor point: the rivers that serve as WaterFire’s stage are actually the Woonesquatucket and Providence not the Thames. Hope you come back soon! Thanks again!


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