My father often goes to Providence, Rhode Island to visit my sister who lives in the area. Every time he comes back he raves about this thing called “WaterFire.” So when Jane and I visited my sister and explored the historic town of Newport, we knew we had to head into Providence Saturday night to see WaterFire.
WaterFire is a sculpture by Barnaby Evans installed on the three rivers in downtown Providence. The “sculpture” contains over 80 bonfire pits tended by volunteer “fire tenders” set to the beat of enchanting worldly music. WaterFire began in 1994 with just one fire commissioned to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of First Night Providence. In 1996, Evans added the second fire for the International Sculpture Conference. Art supports and local Providence residents decided that the fire pits should become a permanent art sculpture and started a grass-roots movement to raise funds to expand the art installation. In 1997, Evans added 40 more fire pits for a total of 42 pits in three rivers. 2014 marks the 20th Anniversary of WaterFire in the City of Providence.
Evans also selects the music for each lighting. The music is different for each lighting so you can go to multiple lightings each year and never see the same one! According to the WaterFire website, the music has a very global sound but often comes back to four different composers – an Estonian composer, an Armenian folk artist, an American avant-garde composer, and selections from Nicholas Len’s “The Fire Requiem.” The soundtracks of the lightings are available for purchase after each show.
I’ll be honest, I was slightly disappointed by WaterFire. Both my father and my sister have raved about WaterFire and don’t get me wrong, it was cool, but something was missing for me. I think I thought it was going to be more of a show with fireworks and performers. WaterFire is certainly very unique and awoke all my senses. I mean who doesn’t love fire?! Yes, I have a wee bit of a pyro in me, but I want more. Many some Chinese acrobats?
All the fires released those memory-provoking fragrances of wood smoke that I so loved growing up with. It smelled like camp. All I needed was some marshmallows. Providence at night, especially lit by fires and paper-laterns is absolutely stunning. I mean I haven’t seen it during the day so I really can’t compare it to much, but I think any city lit by essentially candlelight would be gorgeous. There are several arch bridges over the rivers and the “firetenders” cruise around adding more wood to the fires on a gondola. Hello Venice!
My absolute favorite part of the event was the music. It was literally out of this world. The soundtrack was heavily influenced by Tibetan chanting, so much so that I thought I was going to be stepping into a monastery. I could have sat there and listened to the music all night long, except that I was really hungry and wanted to eat (story of my life!). The feeling of the event was definitely romantic. Jane and I saw many couples having very imitate moments in quiet corners or right smack in the middle of the crowds. WaterFire would definitely make for a great frugal date night!
About a block over from the main event is a small festival area. Local artists and food vendors lined the streets selling their wares. The area was quite crowded with a mix of young families with strollers and some pretty drunk 20-somethings. My toes got ran over by strollers a few times more than I would have enjoyed! Overall, if you find yourself in Providence during WaterFire season then I recommend checking it out. It’s completely free; however, you might pay through the roof for parking! I would recommend getting there early for cheaper parking.
Have you ever been to WaterFire? What did you think?