Getting ready for the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival is a matter of dedication and hard work, not magic.
“People think we stand up here on the levee, snap our fingers, the stage appears,” joked David Salzman, a member of the entertainment facility committee, as he and his fellow self-proclaimed “barge rats” worked on the entertainment barge Wednesday at the Ohio River levee in Marietta.
“We started (Tuesday) about 10 o’clock in the morning, and we will be ready by festival time, 6 o’clock on Friday,” he said.
That’s when the opening ceremonies for the festival are scheduled, but festival committees, volunteers and local businesses can’t wait until that day to get into Sternwheel mode.
As Salzman and others set up the stage, hung banners and put up scaffolding for the sound equipment, longtime festival electrician Randy Britton was preparing to connect the barge to a temporary electrical hookup on the levee.
“I just haven’t found an easy way to get out of it,” laughed Britton, who’s helped with the festival for more than 30 years. “I can’t get anyone to take over for me.”
Many longtime volunteers like Britton are working to make the festival happen this week, whether it’s setting up temporary infrastructure, running errands or working with outside entities to solve whatever problems may arise.
Some were working during the day Wednesday, while others planned to join them after they got off work. Salzman claimed he was assigned barge duty because he just retired a month ago, but another volunteer piped up and said before that he always took time off from work to set up and take down the equipment.
Salzman said he does it because “(I) thoroughly enjoy putting the barge together and seeing all the people enjoy it.”
That’s why folks like festival director general Mike Spahr and fireworks chairman Dennis Blauser say they’ve stayed involved with the event for about as long as Salzman.
“It’s fun, it’s good for the community, and the people on the committee are just good, hard-working people, and they’re fun to be around,” Spahr said.
“I like to give back to the community, and I like to put smiles on as many people’s faces as possible,” Blauser said.
Government entities met with committee members Tuesday to go over safety issues. Tonight, the 100 block of Greene Street and South Second Street will be closed so vendors can move in to set up. On Friday, workers from Pennsylvania-based Pyrotechnico will begin loading equipment for Saturday night’s fireworks show onto barges provided by Marietta Industrial Enterprises.
Local businesses near the river are also preparing for the event. Owner David Hearing said the Levee House adopts a revised menu for a larger, faster-moving crowd over the weekend.
“We keep our favorites on there, then we try to do (some) other things that are quick and easy, like taco salads,” he said.
The Marietta Touchdown Club has been bolstering the inventory for its Kreamy Kreations ice cream trailer at the levee and making sure parent and student volunteers are in place to staff it during the festival. Pork sandwiches and blooming onions have been added to the menu, said Matt Frum, one of the volunteers.
The regular Music on the Levee schedule of Friday and Saturday has been moved to the middle of the week. Steve and Beverly Pottmeyer will entertain the crowd from 7 to 9 p.m. today, before taking the Sternwheel stage on Friday.
“Thursday’s always the biggest night because … that’s when all the other vendors are setting up,” Frum said.
Spahr reminded people planning to attend the festival that parking is available at the Washington County Fairgrounds, with regular shuttle service provided so they don’t have to fight the traffic downtown, especially after the fireworks show.