Towanda’s Riverfest To Feature Variety of Music and Food
By Rick Hiduk
Since its inception in the 1980s, Riverfest at Towanda has grown from a one- to three-day event, added numerous food vendors, and booked a wider variety of entertainment each year. Riverfest will return this evening and run through Saturday, Aug. 20, and will continue to provide a mixture of fun and food that has brought thousands of visitors to the Susquehanna River bank along Towanda’s Merrill Parkway.
Borough secretary and committee co-chair Mary Ann Harris has been involved with the event for nearly 20 years and has enjoyed watching it grow and become an annual tradition to so many people.
“We get emails from people who tell us that they plan their vacations around Riverfest, which is always nice to hear,” she related. “It has been amazing. It gets bigger every year.”
Available vendor space has been maxed out, Harris noted, but the variety of food and beverages available for patrons is impressive. Harris said that Riverfest guests can expect familiar carnival faire such as hot dogs, hamburgers, hoagies, funnel cakes, kettle corn and roasted corn, pizza, pulled pork, spiedies, fresh lemonade and more.
Tonight’s opening ceremony at 6 p.m. will feature the Towanda American Legion Post 42 Honor Guard, a flyover by the Towanda Pilots Association, and a performance by the Penn York Highlanders Pipe Band, who are new to the event. The midway will open, with special, six-dollar ride-all-night bracelets available from 6 to 10 p.m.
Bingo, sponsored by the Central Bradford County Chamber of Commerce, will be held throughout Riverfest, as will many other games and activities. The Maggi Frawley Dancers will return this year for a 7 p.m. performance on the lower stage tonight. Riverfest committee member and disc jockey Bob Brenner will conduct the first of two karaoke contests—primarily for children, teens, and duos—at 7 p.m. Gary Strope and the Bandits Band, who have been pleasing Riverfest crowds for years with their repertoire of country favorites, will play on the truck stage at 8 p.m.
Tomorrow night, the Wyalusing Swing Choir will bring their blend of pop favorites back to Towanda after a break of a few years, kicking off Friday evening’s entertainment schedule with a 6 p.m. show on the lower stage. Brenner’s second karaoke contest will feature solo performances by adult singers, starting at 7 p.m. Additional acts on the roster for Friday evening include the Rafael Gregorian School of Ballet at 7 p.m. and a 7:30 p.m. concert featuring Ike Bowers, Lynn Trybula, and Andy Boardman, each of who, Harris noted, are well-known for their individual efforts but combining their talents on the Riverfest stage for the first time. The Department 24 Band from the Sayre/Athens area will make their Riverfest debut on the truck stage at 9 p.m.
Contests and entertainment will run all day on Saturday, and there will be a kayak and canoe paddle from Ulster to Towanda mid to late morning. A 5K walk/run is slated to begin at 9 a.m., after an 8 a.m. registration. The annual baby crawl contest is scheduled for 9:30 a.m., and the Towanda K-Dettes will present a program at noon. Performances by associates of the Endless Mountains Dance Studio and students from St. Agnes School are planned for 12:15 and 1 p.m., respectively. The midway will open at 1 p.m., with special ride-all-afternoon bracelets available from 1 to 5 p.m. The Little Miss and Little Mister Riverfest competition will get under way at 1:45 p.m., and the kids’ pedal tractor pull is set for 2 p.m. DJ Bob Brenner will bring country line dancers to the lower stage at 3 p.m., and new performers, Jubal, will round out the list of musical programs with a 6 p.m. show.
Harris related that members of a number of Towanda area civic groups add their own special touches to Riverfest each year. Examples include a hayride sponsored by the Lions Club and a raffle conducted by the Kiwanis club.
For those who would like to literally get out on the Susquehanna River, in addition to celebrating its value and significance to the area, Endless Mountain Outfitters (EMO) will coordinate an eight-mile leisurely paddle on Saturday from the Ulster public boat access to the Towanda River Park, which is opposite the festival area. There are several ways in which kayakers and canoers can take part in the event, which will commence at about 10 a.m. Those who have their own boats can shuttle their vessels and themselves and make a voluntary donation to Riverfest. Other options include leaving vehicles at the Towanda River Park and having EMO tender both boats and boaters to Ulster for a $20-per-person donation, or participants can drop off kayaks and canoes in Ulster beforehand, drive to Towanda, and ride the EMO shuttle back to Ulster for $15. EMO also has single and tandem kayaks, as well as canoes available for rent. For more information, interested readers may log on to www.emo44.com, call 570-746-9140, or email email@example.com. After the float, Susquehanna Greenway Partnership volunteers will help staff the EMO booth at Riverfest to provide information about the North Branch Susquehanna Water Trail.
If the sight of hundreds of kayakers coming downriver from the Towanda railroad bridge isn’t enough of a spectacle, patrons will want to stick around to the very end of Riverfest for a large fireworks display, produced again this year by American Fireworks Manufacturing Company of Utica, NY, and scheduled to begin at about 9:30 p.m. As many as 10,000 people have clamored along the riverbank and bridge, as well as on many front porches and rooftops on the Towanda hillside to view “Fire Over Water” in previous years.
The Merrill Parkway was closed to through traffic yesterday afternoon and will remain closed through Sunday morning, Aug. 21. Harris, who shares chair duties with Jim Haight, noted that most businesses and municipal entities with parking lots close to the river relax their weekday parking rules to accommodate as many Riverfest patrons as possible. Common sense should prevail, however, and any area that is cordoned off or clearly marked “No Parking” should be avoided. There is also a public parking lot on Washington Street that offers adequate access to the event area. In the past, Harris added, PennDOT has helped to prevent traffic tie-ups with additional highway signage, and gas companies have detoured much of their traffic to the Route 220 Towanda Bypass.
Admission to Riverfest and the fireworks display are free, and the Riverfest committee accepts private and corporate donations throughout the year to continue to be able to provide a quality event that is affordable for the entire community. Contributions can be mailed to Riverfest Committee, 724 Main Street, Towanda, PA, 18848. Registration for some contests is already closed, while contestants for some of the competitions can register right up to the start of the activity. Detailed information and registration forms can be found online at www.towandaborough.org/eventRiverfest.php.