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If You Burn It, They Will Come

All About WaterFire


WaterFire Bonfire Photo

WaterFire's light and heat is mesmerizing.

© 2010 Kim Knox Beckius
Waterplace Park in downtown Providence is at the heart of the city's rejuvenation, and though it's a choice place for a stroll at any time, it's never more spectacular than when its bridges and walkways and its resident gondola are all bathed in the golden glimmer of WaterFire.

Barnaby Evans was commissioned to create the First Fire in 1994 in celebration of the tenth anniversary of First Night Providence, the city's New Year's Eve celebration. In 1996, he created Second Fire for the International Sculpture Conference. Those enchanted by his creations soon thereafter organized a fund-raising effort to support a permanent installation. The 1997 season featured 13 WaterFire events that attracted an estimated 350,000 people. The number of bonfires has increased (as of 2014, there are more than 80), and Providence residents and visitors will have an opportunity to see WaterFire during at least 11 full lightings during the 2014 season, which runs through November 29. The 2014 WaterFire schedule also features several partial lightings. Check the WaterFire Web site for updates, particularly if there is threatening weather.

The flaming braziers are ignited shorty after sundown by volunteers who man boats stocked with additional wood supplies that are used to keep the fires burning until the wee hours--the musical accompaniment selected for each event by Evans plays until just after midnight. The fragrant mixture of pine, oak and cedar creates an intoxicating smoky perfume that wafts delicately off the water, and the carefully selected score harmonizes with the crackling fires, resonates off the river bridges and streams along the walkways in perfect concert with the flickering flames.

From our vantagepoint overlooking the central core of the installation from the street above, we were able to see the torch runners arrive and climb aboard the boats. Another fine place to watch the enchantment is from a gondola on the river. Call La Gondola at 401-421-8877 well in advance to make reservations for a WaterFire evening.

Actually, there truly is no "bad" spot from which to watch WaterFire, and you'll want to move about, strolling along the riverside walkways and under the echoing bridges to view the sculpture from many angles. It's a good idea to arrive early in Providence: Crowds begin to accumulate well before sundown.

Getting there: WaterFire takes place in downtown Providence on select evenings. From Interstate 95 North or South, take exit 22. The off ramp brings you onto Memorial Boulevard, which runs along the river. WaterFire is on your left after the first set of lights, and the installation extends down past the Crawford Street Bridge. From Route 195, follow the signs for Route 95 north (toward Boston). Stay to the right, take exit 22, and follow the directions above. There is ample parking available--some free, some not.

Where to stay: Find special rates on Providence hotels when you book via Expedia.

Bring along: A jacket, as it may be chilly after dark; a loved one to hold hands with as you stroll along the rivers; and tissues if there's any chance you're a sentimental sap like me.

Questions? Call the WaterFire office, 401-273-1155, during business hours weekdays.

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