Despite an unexpected rain and wind, dozens of people – mostly clustered under tents – gathered to listen to live music Friday evening between the Lafayette Hotel and the muddy Ohio River.
“If they can play in the rain, we can listen to ’em,” said Newport resident Sharon DeFrank, 52, as Vinnie and the Lubricators performed their rendition of “No Diggity.”
She and her husband Joe haven’t missed a Marietta Riverfront Roar in the event’s 13-year history, and they didn’t plan for this year’s to be the first – even if the high-speed powerboat races that anchor the weekend were canceled.
Forecasts earlier in the week at least indicated Friday, Saturday and Sunday would offer warm, dry weather for the other events that make up the Roar after the races were called due to elevated river levels that wouldn’t have receded enough by Saturday to provide safe conditions. But the rains returned Friday afternoon and lingered into the evening, stifling attendance for the Roar music and July’s downtown Merchants and Artist Walk.
“Had a few brave people that have withstood the weather and come in, but nothing like normal, when the weather’s nice,” said Cheryl Lang, owner of A Unique Flower & Gift Shop on Front Street. “If it would quit raining, I would think maybe the weekend could be salvaged.”
Organizers are hoping that will happen, but the National Weather Service has revised a sunny and dry Saturday forecast to include a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms between 3 and 7 p.m. and a lesser chance after 10 p.m.
Marietta resident Sandy Fuller, 67, and her grandson, Steven Shuman, 24, enjoy the racing and associated Roar events and tried to make a go of it Friday.
“We just absolutely love this. And we can put up with a little bit of sprinkles,” Fuller said. “But we can’t take it tonight.”
The limited activities along with the weather led them to pack it in early Friday, but Shuman and his grandmother said if the weather improved, they would be back downtown Saturday for an extended slate of entertainment.
A number of others opted to make a go of it Friday, something Roar committee Chairman Gary Williams appreciated.
“You know, the unbelievable part is there are people out there walking, in the downpour, there are people buying food. That’s remarkable,” he said.
Williams said the committee has a lot invested in this weekend’s event, including insurance and an expanded fireworks show and entertainment lineup. Concession sales and donations collected over the weekend are important for reloading for next year.
“And that’s going to be affected by the weather,” Williams said. “It hasn’t worked this weekend so far. But I’m optimistic that Saturday’s going to be a great day.”
Roar committee member Sandy Hoblink, whose father, Jim Leatham, helped bring the races to the Pioneer City in 2001, said the boats were never intended to be the only attraction of the weekend.
“We really wanted it to be a Marietta downtown business expo,” she said. “That’s why we always combine it with the Merchants and Artist Walk.”
That combination usually results in powerboats on display up and down the closed downtown streets as people peruse the businesses and artists set up in front of them. Although there will be no racing this weekend, a couple of boats from the Extreme Powerboat Racing Team, were set up in front of the Lafayette Hotel.
Team members Dan Bunting, 41, of Columbus, and Jeff Vasko, 36, of Logan, said they wanted to show their support to the event and emphasize how much they want to come back and race again next year.
“This is kind of like our hometown event, and we know all the work that goes into putting on the Riverfront Roar,” Bunting said.
Vasko said he raced last week in Pittsburgh in high-water conditions and bent his boat’s prop and damaged the gearbox on floating debris.
“The smallest debris can cause the biggest damage,” he said.
A couple of vendors from Columbus also still made the trip to Marietta, in part out of loyalty to the event and those who run it.
“They’ve been good to us here, so we decided to come,” said Gary Summerville, with J&G’s Concessions.
The cancellation of the races and the unexpected wet weather on top of it will likely cut into the business of the vendors and local businesses counting on a big weekend. Adam Work, owner of Work’s Place on the Ohio River Levee, said he’d just gotten a big delivery for the weekend when he heard the races had been called.
“To quote Bon Jovi, ‘shot through the heart,'” he said.
Work said the Roar is probably second only to the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival in terms of the business he does.
“That’s really what mainly keeps me in the black,” he said.
Jeri Knowlton, executive director of the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the weekend is probably the second biggest tourism draw to the Sternwheel Festival as well. She said some people likely come primarily for the races and that will hurt attendance, but she also expects the community to rally behind the volunteers who organize the Roar.
“We need to show that we appreciate them when something like this happens,” Knowlton said.
To make up for the loss of the racing, Roar entertainment Chairman Bob Crock called in a few favors to expand Saturday’s entertainment lineup. Now the music starts at 1 p.m. instead of 5, with Elvis tribute artist Jim Forshey.
“We found the King,” Crock said. “He is alive, and he will be at the Roar (Saturday) at 1 o’clock to kick things off.”
Other additions to the schedule include South of the River Band, Backroad Remedy, Christopher Keesey and Justin Arthur.