EAST PROVIDENCE – So, you woke up this morning and asked your spouse, “Honey, what should we do today?” He or she just replied, “Don't know. What're you up for?”
You started reading this and found your answer – the 31st edition of the East Providence Heritage Festival.
No pressure, but perhaps you should follow the advice of numerous folks who chose to attend “Opening Night” at the Pierce Athletic Complex on Friday.
Jerry McKenna had just exited the ride “Cliff Hanger” with his two granddaughters – Erin Donnelly, 12, and her kid sister Taylor, 8 – and laughed, “It was a little scary, but I'd go on it again. I mean, it's a thrill!”
Without provocation, the Riverside resident indicated he and his wife have attended every festival for the last 29 years, and wouldn't miss it.
“I remember when it was held at the old city hall on Taunton Avenue; back then, it was mostly booths selling ethnic foods and a little music, with Cape Verdean and other bands playing,” he said. “This has grown leaps and bounds. What makes this so great, it's fun for the whole family.”
He then pointed at his two grandchildren and offered, “They're used to this now. They're three-year veterans.”
Stated Taylor: “I liked the ride because it went really fast. I also was a little scared because it went really high.”
Seconds later, brothers Andrew (16) and Billy (13) Vanner of Riverside walked toward “Pharoah's Fury” (don't have a hot dog or the “alligator bites” beforehand, because the ride's G-forces may raise havoc with your stomach), and explained why they chose to attend.
“I've been here before; good rides, good booths,” Andrew noted. “You get to see some of your friends and just hang out. The concerts are pretty good, too. That's why I wanted to come. Tonight, they have a tribute band to Boston and Journey, and I like that kind of music.
“When you listen to a pop song now, it's like it gets old in three months,” he added. “Those bands created songs that are timeless. I can't wait to see what they play.”
Offered Billy: “Our family's going to be here, so we'll meet up with them, and some friends of ours. We'll go on some of the rides. I want to go on 'Zipper,' which is kind of like a vertical Ferris wheel. You crouch in a cage and hold onto the metal bars, and the cage spins you upside down while all the cages go around.”
Naturally, there are other reasons to trek to 201 Mercer St. for the remainder of the festival (Saturday, 3-11 p.m. and Sunday, 3-10:30 p.m., all for a paltry entry fee of $10 per person): Rides for children ages 2 -92; booths galore, those selling everything from custom jewelry, sandals and hats to ethnic foods to temporary tattoos to soda, water, frozen lemonade, beer and wine to, yes, alligator and Cajun crab cakes.
There also are the usual carnival games (and foods); plenty of concerts; and even the K-ROB Foundation's BMX exhibition, to be held at 5 tonight. Nine-time X Games medalist and East Providence native Kevin Robinson will act as emcee for those events, the reason being he's still rehabbing from shoulder surgery.
Robinson has enlisted plenty of talent to replace him, among them: Ian Bradley, a 14-year-old Troy, N.H. resident and BMX freestyler who captured the title at the Disney's “Next X” event; his brother, Zane, a 16-year-old who currently trains at the famed Woodward Action Sports Camp in Pennsylvania; and Rob Clancy, 22, of Coventry.
“I met the Bradleys when I trained at Woodward several years ago, when they were, like, six and eight,” Robinson grinned. “We became really good buddies, and I consider them the future of BMX … Obviously, I can't ride because of my surgery, and I'm still healing. I needed some people to fill my shoes, and they were the first guys to pop into my mind.
“I got them not just for their skills, but because they're so professional,” he continued. “For me, they're a joy to watch, especially with them at such a young age. They're all freestylers, and they'll be doing tricks like 'No Handles,' 'Superman,' '360s,' tail whips and back flips.
“We're here to continue to bring awareness to the foundation (which helps city youths remain involved in sports) in East Providence and the surrounding communities. We launched the K-ROB Foundation here last year, and it went beyond my wildest expectations.
“We raised about $6,000 in our first year, and it went from everything from helping the E.P. Mohawks (youth football team) attend the National Pop Warner Championships in Florida to registering kids for karate classes at Lovett's Tae Kwon Do in Seekonk. It also went to pay for starting up an action sports program at Bayside YMCA in Barrington. We built a couple of ramps, and the kids can get started.”
Robinson also promised, as he did Friday, to raffle off a Hoffman Scarab 20-inch BMX bike this afternoon. Tickets may be purchased at $5 a shot, and vintage KROB T-shirts will be sold for the same price.
How about the music? On Saturday, “Mystic Jammers,” an Afro-Caribbean/Reggae band, will take the field stage at 4 p.m., while “Grupo Fantasia,” an Afro-Cuban/Latin Jazz group, will follow at 6 p.m.
Inside the Pierce Memorial Stadium, “Band of Brothers” will start the night at 8 p.m., and “Dennis DeYoung: The Music of Styx” will follow at 9:30 p.m.
On Sunday, “Maasai” will offer Afro-Caribbean/Reggae tunes under the field tent at 4 p.m.; followed by “Marcus Santos & AfroBrazil” at 5:30 p.m. At the stadium (all are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets), “Completely Unchained,” a tribute band to Van Halen, will play at 7:15 p.m., with “Almost Queen” finishing the night at 9.
“Power League Wrestling” also will deliver a show at 5 p.m.
Even before Friday's festivities had begun, Isadore “Izzy” Ramos – a former East Providence Superintendent of Schools, City Councilor and Mayor – strolled around the massive field eating a Cape Verdean soup he purchased at a booth.
“I always appreciate the festival because it brings out the community,” he said. “It's a true family outing, where it doesn't matter what age you are. There's something here for everybody … I know most everyone who comes because I used to be the superintendent, and I knew the kids as students; now I see them as adults with their children.
“It gives me a chance to reconnect with them,” he added.
When told of a special plaque that had been created in memory of former Heritagedays, Inc. Chairman Sam Abbood, who died earlier this year, Ramos walked to the field tent and peered at the memorial, made by Jim Rose of J.R. Plaques & Displays of Rumford.
The plaque read, simply, “In memory of Sam Abbood, East Providence Heritage Festival Chairman, 1983-2010.”
“Sam,” he smiled. “You know, he deserves it. He's been here since its inception. Whenever I walk through the gate, I look for him. He always used to sit over by the beer/wine tent. I know he's not here, but you recall seeing his face.”
Mentioned interim Parks & Recreation Director Alba Curti while perusing a photo of Abood: “Typical Sam. He reveled in making sure everyone else was having a good time. Look at him, he seems so pleased that everyone is having fun behind him. Then again, he's showing a glimmer of pride and satisfaction, too. He was a terrific man.”