Combining elements must be a good thing, correct? Water and Fire naturally cancel each other out, but when used in combination, the two can be mesmerizing. WaterFire Providence has become an annual event on your can’t miss list to Rhode Island. This ingenious event in Providence Rhode Island has been partly responsible for the sudden resurgence the downtown area has experienced. Any trip to Providence in the summer through fall should absolutely include this experience on their to-do list.
Revitalizing Downtown Providence
Originally created in 1996 as “First Fire” by Barnaby Evans, the event was meant to provide an interactive work of art to engage locals and to help Providence revitalize its image. Deciding on a second year and dubbing it, obviously, as Second Fire, locals in the art scene convinced Evans to establish an ongoing presentation. The organization now functions as an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit arts organization dedicated to revitalization of the community. Presenting WaterFire as a yearly event helped elevate the image of downtown and put Providence squarely on the map of things to see in New England.
Waterfire is actually a simple concept at first look. Install a number of fire pits, called braziers on the three rivers of Downtown Providence and light them with some background music. That’s the simple explanation, but the actual event itself is quite beautifully orchestrated and adds a surreal atmosphere to the evening. Beginning at sunset, firetenders, some in Venetian garb with Carnival masks make their way down the river in gondolas, handing out roses to attendees lining the riverwalk. Combined with music that can only be considered borderline throat music echoes throughout the downtown waterways to provide an ambiance of mystique. The experience of the lighting has you dreaming of European evenings in Venice.
As the braziers are lit, one after the other, the resulting effect is that of fire literally dancing on the water. Each river, illuminated with beauty points its way to a large basin, essentially the center of downtown. The glow increases as you enter the basin surrounded by many braziers. Between the soft hum of music and talking, the crackling of the fire as embers float away and slowly disappear into the dark water below is mesmerizing and somewhat trance like. As the years have passed, Waterfire organizers allow people to take part in the event, either by volunteering as a worker, paid opportunities to light a brazier or be a performer in periodic special lightings throughout the year. You can even have a candlelit dinner (large candles on the water of course) to impress the better half in your life.
There are several lightings throughout the year, mainly taking place on Saturday nights so the schedule allows for flexibility in your travels. As the event increases in popularity, more street vendors and activities fill the downtown area surrounding the waterways. Parking is ample but be aware the closer you get to the basin, the longer it could take to get away when the lighting ceremony completes. Reservations at local eateries fill up quickly so it’s wise to plan ahead if you intend on spending the evening in Providence.
Waterfire Providence has a website waterfire.org that explores more history and detail about the event and what to expect as you make plans to visit. If Rhode Island remains as one of the states you have yet to visit or simply looking for a fantastic way to spend a day trip from the surrounding New England countryside, you simply must make plans to visit Waterfire. Soon, you will know why Providence is on the rebound and becoming a focal point of the Northeastern United States.