City streets in and around downtown came alive Saturday, as thousands of people gathered to celebrate the return of WaterFire Sharon.
East State Street closed from Main to Dock Street, where an oversized American flag fluttered over the crowd.
Sounds of rock music and laughter and smells of popcorn, food, and burning wood flooded crowds of all ages, perusing wares from local artisans, enjoying live music, and eating kettle corn, funnel cakes, gyros, roasted nuts, barbecue, and sausage sandwiches, and drinking fresh-squeezed lemonade.
They lined the Shenango River to glimpse 55 braziers that were lit at dusk.
One of more than two dozen vendors along East State Street, Ryan Fisher, a skilled glass blower who owns Fish the Pyro’s Glass in Youngstown, was enjoying it all while he created intricate pieces of jewelry.
“I love fire in general,” he said, laughing, as he used flame and glass to create a pendant.
Fisher attended WaterFire in 2019 and was glad to be back. The event, which was first held in 2013, was canceled in 2020 because of COVID-19.
The main event kicked off with a Native American blessing of the river given by Leon Sam Briggs, a Tonawanda Seneca.
The large metal orb on the bridge, featuring the WaterFire Sharon logo, was lit followed by the braziers filled with wood. Volunteers made their way up the river in boats, stopping at each one, as the music rocked on.
At the Main Street end was Touch-a-Truck – a chance for kids and even adults – to get an up-close look at large vehicles, including a tractor, dump truck, and excavator.
“That tire is taller than you are,” exclaimed Tiffany Petricini of Sharon, as she snapped pictures of her son, Tommy, 9, and his friend, Nick Pilipovich, 11.
The Petricinis have visited WaterFire Sharon before, but Saturday was Nick’s first time. He was enjoying some French fries and a “Star Wars” toy car. Meantime, Tommy was on the hunt for a corndog.
The Community Food Warehouse of Mercer County sold snow cones and chocolate-covered Oreos out of Myron’s Meal Mobile – a school bus the organization converted to distribute meals in the summer.
“We’ve had a great turnout so far,” said Becky Page, executive director of the nonprofit, which will provide three meals to a Mercer County resident for each dollar they made Saturday.
More vendors were stationed in front of the vacant Columbia Theatre; a fire closed it in 1981. It’s now owned by the Sharon-based Vocal Group Hall of Fame and is for sale.
Several signs outside the theater ask for offers for the building. For information, call 724-983-2025, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Kids’ Zone, next to the river on Shenango Avenue, featured interactive robots built by the Sharon Tiger Techs and the Sharon High School Robotics Team, led by Coach Dave Tomko.
“I liked the one with the claws,” said Sammy Bagzis, 7, of Sharpsville.
He tried his hand at controlling a spider-like robot; other kids caught rubber rings launched by another robot, or drew pictures by maneuvering robots holding markers.
Alex Sokol, 17, a senior at Sharon High School, helped kids explore the robots he helped build.
“So far it’s been pretty fun,” he said.
The theme of this year’s WaterFire Sharon was “Memories.” Several marker boards were set up with a request to have people write down their favorite memories.
One board featured greetings from Cape Town, South Africa; Utah, Colorado, and other locations.