Waterfire Providence is an event that you will remember forever!

Waterfire Providence is an outdoor artistic presentation incorporating water, fire, dramatic music and fire performers. The event takes place at Waterplace Park in Providence, Rhode Island and the season schedule begins in the spring and will run through early November. The 2023 season opens on April 19th and the events are typically scheduled every two week through the season but check the published schedule for exact dates.

The events are an experience that engages all of your senses. You will watch the fires flickering on top of the river, smell the aroma of the wood burning, hear the crackling of the flames and if you sit close enough you may even feel a little warmth of the fire while enjoying the taste from food served by local restaurants that set up booths for the event.

The intention of Waterfire Providence is to use art in many creative ways to bring the city together for the purpose of building the city back stronger. The performance gives people the opportunity to sit down at sunset and watch the city light up at night.

Waterfire Providence is an independent, non-profit arts organization whose mission is to inspire Providence and its visitors through an urban experience of art, music and food.

The performance is located in a public park with no admission which gives everyone gets a chance to have the best seats.

Come early to get a good seat

To say the event is popular would be an understatement! About 50,000 people will attend each exhibitions and nearly one million visitors will attend throughout the season.

I’m not sure there is a bad spot to watch the performance but I recommend coming early to get a good place to stand or to sit with your legs dangling along the walls lining the rivers which is my recommendation.

Fire on the River

About 100 wood-stacked braziers (small bonfires) are set ablaze at sunset along the Providence, Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck Rivers but the main event is located in the circular basin in the Woonasquatucket River at Waterplace Park.

Waterfire started in 1994 with 11 braziers, in 1997 it was expanded to 42 braziers, then to 81 braziers in 1998 and to 97 braziers in 1999.

Supply boats

The braziers are built the day before each event by supply boats and continually feed as the fires burn down. The small bonfires will burn 20 to 30 cords of wood during the night. The fires will remain lit until midnight along with a music track.

Arrival of the torches

Music starts at sunset and the event begins with a small group of people entering the basin with flaming torches. The processional of people with lit torches come down a long staircase to the river’s edge where they light torches on boats that float into the basin circle.

Fire performers enter the basin

Two of the boats have performers in fire themed costumes that twist and twirl flames. The boats with performers on the front enter the basin first followed by other boats that are loaded with fire wood. The torch bearers on the river bank light the fires for the performers and then the torches are given to the supply boats to light the braziers.

The main Event begins

Once the performer’s instruments have been set on fire, the show begins and the actions starts. The boats with the performers circle the basin while the performers flail their flaming instruments in constant motion.

The man used two flaming balls on the end of about two foot chains. He performed a routine with both flaming balls moving in sequence. His routine reminded me of watching a nunchucks exhibition except that the end of the nunchuck was set on fire. It was amazing to see him twirl the flams all around his body without getting burned.

The woman used two sets of handles with five burning balls on each handle. Her devices reminded me of candle operas where the candles had been replaces with mini torches. She also twirled the flames in all directions around her body avoiding getting burned.

Lighting of the Bonfires

While the performers entertained the crowd, the other passengers in the boats lit the braziers filling the basin and the rivers with small flaming bonfires.

Water and Fire

At the end of the performance the water was covered with dozens of bonfires in the basin and more bonfires on the river leading into the basin.

The fires continued to burn accompanied by the music for a few minutes leaving me wondering if the event was over but no one was leaving so I concluded that there was more to come.

Kayaks with fish

After a short break kayaks with lit fish on the back of the kayak started entering the basin. More and more kayaks continued to enter with the fish seemingly swimming in circles on top of the water. The parade of kayaks endlessly paddled around the basin but then they disappeared as mysteriously as they arrived.

The performance starts with the music, then builds with the lighting of the bonfires followed by a fire exhibition by two costumed performers and ends with people in kayaks with colorfully lit fish paddling around the bonfires. 

The performance didn’t really make sense to me but I really had a lot of fun and I think that is the real purpose!

The Dust on My Shoes

When doing research for my trip to New England I stumbled across a couple of pictures of the Waterfire Providence event. It looked like an event that was unusual and something that I would enjoy. I tried to find out more about the event but I couldn’t find much that explained the event but I still thought it would be a fun event to experience.

During the event there was no explanation of what is happening or if there is any symbolic reasons to it. It is promoted as an art performance and like most art forms, the meaning is intended to be interpreted by the viewer.

The purpose is to revitalize the city by bringing the people together in a place where everyone can relax, have fun and enjoy the show. Without a doubt, that goal has been accomplished because the city was packed with friendly people relaxing and having fun.

I think it is great to have a major event that’s sole purpose is to unite the city by relaxing and having fun!

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