Boats bobbed leisurely or skipped swiftly on the Mon, depending on the operator. Jet skiers cut urgently through the water.
Onshore, patrons of various ages and sizes canvassed the booths of 22 vendors, shopping for sandwiches, sweets, hats, shirts, investment advisers and even slushy wine. They did so to the rock sound of Hollow Lines, a three-boy band of Bethlehem-Center High School students.
It was mid-afternoon of a midsummer day’s dream in Fredericktown, warm with uninterrupted sunshine that cast a glimmer on everything. Yet nothing shone more brightly Saturday than the village itself.
The 10th annual Riverfest kicked off at 2 p.m., and by 3 it was a hit again. It has grown into, probably, the signature event of the year in Fredericktown, with activities, music, munchies, conviviality and – of course – fireworks after dark.
It all happens on the banks of the Monongahela, Pennsylvania’s River of the Year in 2013, in a section of the waterway designated Maxwell Pool. The Mon treats Fredericktown well, and vice-versa. There are four marinas in this part of East Bethlehem Township, where more than 400 boats dock.
Dennis Slagle has a keen awareness of the Mon’s importance to towns along the eastern border of Washington County, down through Greene County and into Morgantown, W.Va. He is president of the Fredericktown Chamber of Commerce, which plans and executes Riverfest, and is involved with the Mon River Valley Coalition, representing municipalties from Monongahela to Morgantown.
“We have something going every couple of weeks here,” Slagle said of the coalition area.
Riverfest was the event du jour Saturday, and it drew hundreds of patrons within the first couple of hours, with thousands more anticipated during the all-day fest.
“We usually get 4,000 to 5,000 people (on land), and about 100 boats on the river, for the fireworks,” Slagle said of the event, planned for about 9:30 p.m.
“We’ll have about 150 boats in the river when the fireworks go off,” estimated Lynda Pelkey, Riverfest co-chair with Denise Prodan. “Everything is a rough guess. We can’t keep count of the people. But we get a lot,” Prodan said, without hesitation, that “for our chamber of commerce, this is the biggest event of the year.”
Like the Mon, Riverfest undergoes constant change – only more rapidly. The co-chairs tweak attractions, keeping some, adding and subtracting, while being somewhat daring. “We had a skydiver land in the river at the first Riverfest,” Prodan said.
Local band Flashback – featuring adults Leon Sierzenga, George Huseman, Mark Nagy, Larry Gibel, Jerry Sierzenga and Lex Prodan – was back. But a petting zoo, with $4 pony rides, was introduced this year.
New vendors were on hand, including Waddell & Reed financial planners and University Wine Co., a State College firm that specializes in a product called U-Freeze – wine in a pouch that is frozen, resulting in a cool, flavorful slush.
Monessen native Jinx Proch started the firm in 2011. His son, Jeff, is now the owner.
Riverfest keeps its head well above water thanks to donations. Prodan said local businesses and individuals provided the $6,000 necessary for the fireworks show, which was scheduled to run for a half-hour.
She also said Rudy’s Fabric & Machine of Fredericktown provided a cluster of three metal fish, installed and encased in cement last week, to adorn the shoreline.
For the 10th time, Riverfest made a major splash.