Today’s resolution: Memories of Riverfest

28 May

Riverfest, for me, is best remembered. The festival today has gotten so large that attending is an excruciating, high-anxiety experience.

But there was a time when I loved to go.

During Riverfest’s earliest days, it was held at Murray Park near the lock and dam. It was easy to drive in, park roadside, spend a few hours enjoying the activities, then get out. There were face-painting and activity booths for the kids, a few local musical acts (Greasy Greens, anyone?), food booths (funnel cakes!), jugglers, gymnasts, belly dancers, clowns, local celebrities, politicians working the “crowd.”

My ex-husband and I would take my stepdaughter, Samantha, to this pleasant little festival. She always had a great time in the kid’s area. For us, the fun was watching her. Here’s a photo of Sam, age 3 or 4, after a visit to the face-painting booth.

Sam at Riverfest. Can't you tell she's had big fun?

I believe this was the same year that the Riverfest folks offered, as part of the festivities, rides in Amtrak train cars, from the Riverdale area to the park. Of course, we had to ride the train.

That day, we had typical Riverfest weather — it rained the first night like it has more often than not in recent years. On Saturday, the riverside was steamy and thick with mosquitoes. The temperature rose to the 90s, but the overcast sky saved us from total meltdown.

On the train ride back at the end of the day, every seat was filled. The windows were open, the air in the car heavy and hot. All the passengers were stick-to-the-seat sweaty and half asleep.

Sam stood in the aisle, clutching the back of her father’s seat and swaying as the car moved at about 15 mph on the track. About halfway through the ride, she cut loose.

Camptown ladies sing this song,
Doo-da, Doo-da
The Camptown racetrack’s five miles long
Oh, de doo-da day

Goin’ to run all night
Goin’ to run all day
Bet my money on a bob-tailed nag
Somebody bet on the gray

I swear, she had the lyrics down and was singing her heart out. Her sweet piping voice rose above the rumble of the train on the tracks.

When she finished, no on moved or spoke. All at once, everybody began clapping and calling  for an encore so Sam sang another round before we reached the end of the line.

The next year, I recall, Riverfest moved downtown to the grounds of the Old State House and other places along Third Street. Of course, we were there with Sam.

Those were the best days.

Sitting on the steps of Robinson Auditorium during the first year Riverfest was held downtown. Notice the lack of crowding. Good times.

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3 Responses to “Today’s resolution: Memories of Riverfest”

  1. jenn May 28, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    I am loving the photos! And I agree – Riverfest is too crowded to bother with anymore (unless there is a musical act I realllllly want to see).

  2. Laura Cartwright Hardy May 28, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Nice. I remember being at Riverfest in 1979 at Murray Park. Tiny little thing then.

  3. Cici Davidson May 28, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    That is the sweetest story, Rhonda.

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