The setup for Marietta's 37th annual Ohio River Sternwheel Festival began long before most of the sternwheelers began lining up along the riverbank this week.
"We began making preparations last Thursday, and started putting up the stage on the entertainment barge on Tuesday this week," festival president Cheri Seevers said Thursday afternoon.
She said the festival, which has drawn thousands of visitors to the Pioneer City annually since 1975, is the result of many hours of work by hundreds of volunteers.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Crews were erecting the sound system aboard the entertainment barge at the Ohio River levee Thursday afternoon in preparation for the 37th annual Ohio River Sternwheel Festival. Opening ceremonies begin at 6 p.m. today.
"We've also had a lot of help from groups like the Delts (Delta Tau Delta) at Marietta College," Seevers added. "And we couldn't do any of this free family-friendly event without the support of our corporate and private contributors."
Banners recognizing the Sternwheel Festival's major corporate sponsors-those providing $3,000 or more of support-are posted on the front of the entertainment barge at the Ohio River levee. But Seevers said there are also many lower-level sponsors, including individual donors.
"We have about 21 total corporate sponsors altogether," she said.
6 p.m. - Opening ceremonies.
7 - Steve and Bev Pottmeyer.
7:30 - Little Miss and Mr. Sternwheel Festival Pageant.
8 - Arrival - The Journey Tribute Band.
9:30 - David Nail.
11:30 - Introduction of queen candidates.
Noon - Marietta High School Wall of Sound Marching Band.
1 p.m. - Marietta High School Show Choir "Premiere."
2 - Monday Calling.
3 - Eric Himan.
4 - The Chase.
5 - Monday Calling.
6 - Eric Himan.
7 - Coronation and recognition of past queens.
7:30 - The Chase.
8:30 - Stayin' Alive - One Nite with the Bee Gees.
9:30 - Harry J. Robinson Memorial Fireworks.
10 - Stayin' Alive - One Nite with the Bee Gees.
8 a.m. - Sunrise Service
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. - Car show.
10 - Alfie and the Omegas.
11 - Jennifer Simmons.
Noon - Hadden Sayers Band.
1 p.m. - Captain James E. Sands Memorial Sternwheeler Races.
2 - Hadden Sayers Band.
2:30 - Phil Dirt and the Dozers.
Festival chairman Jon Coppernoll said there are more than 100 volunteer members who serve with the Sternwheel Festival committees.
"And we make use of every available body that we can," he said. "We encourage anyone interested in joining the Sternwheel Festival committees to contact any committee member (they'll be wearing bright yellow shirts this weekend), or contact the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau."
Coppernoll said the membership represents a good cross-section of the local community.
"Our members come from all walks of life-from college students to professionals," he said. "And we encourage local community members to become involved."
Coppernoll has been helping with the festival for 16 years.
"I've always felt an attraction to the rivers, and this is such a great family event that brings a lot of tourists into Marietta," he said.
One highlight of this year's festival will come during the opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. today on the Ohio River levee.
"We're doing a dedication to Specialist Kyle Hockenberry, and will be presenting a special plaque to his father during the opening event," Coppernoll said.
Hockenberry lost both legs and his left arm while serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan more than a year ago.
Friday night will feature a Journey tribute band, Arrival, and country music artist David Nail.
Saturday night, Stayin' Alive, One Nite of the Bee Gees, will be the headliner before the Harry J. Robinson Memorial Fireworks at 9:30 p.m.
Sunday will feature the annual sternwheel races and wraps up with a performance by Phil Dirt and the Dozers.
In addition to those being entertained, local businesses owners say they look forward to the annual Ohio River Sternwheel Festival.
"It's definitely good for us and for all the downtown merchants," said Asunta Damron, owner of the My Favorite Things shop on Front Street.
"We've been eight years at this location, and look forward to the festival every year," she said. "We sell a lot of fresh fudge, ice cream and hot dogs, and everyone loves our chicken salad sandwiches."
Across the street the historic Lafayette Hotel is one of several area hotels that fill up over Sternwheel weekend.
Hotel manager Sheila Rhodes said there are usually only a very small number of rooms open for the weekend.
"I've been here for 16 years, and I would say three-quarters of the people who were staying here then during Sternwheel weekend are the same ones who come back year after year," she said. "It's almost like a big family reunion. We see a lot of old friends."
Rhodes said there is always a waiting list for rooms at the hotel during the Sternwheel Festival.
"We have almost 600 waiting, but the hotel only has 77 rooms," she said.
The Lafayette also offers crab cake sandwiches and other delicacies at a booth just outside the hotel over the weekend.
Jeff Spear, owner of River View Antiques on Front Street, and member of the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen organization, also expects plenty of traffic through his store over the weekend.
But he's also looking forward to the following weekend when the annual Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen Convention will be held at the Lafayette on Sept. 14 and 15.
Charlotte Keim, executive director of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, said the festival brings a lot of people into the local shops.
"Many of the businesses try to run full staff because they know there will be a lot of foot traffic downtown," she said. "And for the most part, all of the area hotels are booked. Many of the prime locations are booked a year ahead for the festival."
Keim said many downtown restaurants will also be filled to capacity through the weekend.
Jeri Knowlton, executive director of the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the bureau heavily markets the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival throughout the year.
"We work with people at the state level as well as with various media, including blogs and other advertising," she said. "Our mailings, visitor packets and postcards also promote the Sternwheel Festival."
Knowlton said the event is a great, family-friendly show that draws thousands every year.
"The committee knows how to put on a good show and keeps the crowds coming back year after year," she said. "And other area attractions in the Marietta and Parkersburg areas also benefit from additional tourist activity over the weekend."
Knowlton said one month before the festival about 50 percent of the CVB's callers are asking about the Sternwheel Festival.
"Two weeks before the event, at least 70 percent of our calls are about the festival," she said.
More than 30 vendors will line a couple blocks of Greene and Second streets today, serving a variety of food, drinks and other concessions.
At 5 p.m. today Post, Front and Second streets will be closed to traffic between Butler and Greene streets, as well as Second and Third streets between Greene and Ohio streets during the festival. All of Ohio Street will be closed to traffic, from Fourth Street to the Ohio River levee.
Coppernoll noted the Williamstown Bridge would also close to pedestrian traffic at 9 p.m. Saturday, a half-hour before the fireworks display. No one is permitted to watch the display from the bridge due to public safety regulations.
The Williamstown Bridge is also expected to be closed briefly to traffic around 8 a.m. Saturday for a 5K run to benefit Kyle Hockenberry from Williamstown's Tomlinson Park to the Washington Street Bridge in Marietta.