Come On Baby Light My Pyre

This photo links to an album of a few crappy cell phone photos from last night’s Waterfire in Providence. Thanks to commenter Peter VE, we were able to get a boat ride down the river to experience the sights, sounds and people involved, and it was by far the highlight of the whole Netroots Nation experience.

Waterfire’s been going on since 1994. It features fires in something like 100 wood burning pyres, accompanied by a wide variety of music (in the time we were there, we heard some Bob Marley, Erik Satie, David Gray and an aria from Pagliacci). Thousands of people line the rivers hanging out and enjoying the spectacle, while dozens of volunteers traveled the river adding more wood to keep the fires burning. A genuinely diverse group of people (all ages, races and classes) showed up to hang out and enjoy the beautiful evening.

We also met Barnaby Evans, the artist who created Waterfire. I mentioned to him that we saw a lot of couples making out during our ride, and he said that there’s some study showing that public displays of affection in urban environments are correlated with the comfort that the inhabitants have with their environment. Dogs are allowed at Waterfire and he and Peter said that there had never been a dogfight there, which says a lot about how the owners are feeling there. And for all the Waterfires since its inception, there have been only two fights, both of which came from somewhere else and were chased into the river area.

Providence is just a little gem of a city. The urban core is compact and walkable, with beautiful architecture and great places to eat, and friendly people. A couple of days hanging out in Providence, capped by night on the river experiencing Waterfire, is a hell of a good time I’d recommend to anyone.

Also, too: after Waterfire, we trekked to some bar for the Kos after party, which was everything Waterfire wasn’t. I heard that they had been invited to have their after party as part of Waterfire and weren’t interested. Maybe it was money or something else that stopped it, but what a missed opporunity. I’m going to have more to say about the politics of Kos and the Netroots movement, but for now, I just want to give a big thanks to Peter, Barnaby and the other Waterfire volunteers who were so nice to two anonymous jackasses who write shit on the Internet.

65 replies
  1. 1
    Baud says:

    Never been to Providence — I’ll have to put it on my list.

    I’m going to have more to say about the politics of Kos and the Netroots movement

    Looking forward to it — as long as you validate my preconceived notions. ;-)

  2. 2
    rachel says:

    Huh. It sounds a bit like the Hakushu Festival in Yanagawa, Japan.

    ETA: Except for no fireworks at the end.

  3. 3
    Evergreen (formerly Betsy, forever ago) says:

    Providence is just a little gem of a city. The urban core is compact and walkable, with beautiful architecture and great places to eat, and friendly people.

    YES. I went to college in PVD, and I would move back there in a heartbeat, given the opportunity. Just a wonderful, lively little city.

  4. 4
    Ben Franklin says:

    Dogs are allowed.

    Good on ’em. If corporations can be people, dog is god spelled backward

  5. 5
    TOP123 says:

    It’s also a great way to show off the restored river. Providence is NOW a little gem of a city!

  6. 6
    Mike in NC says:

    I lived and worked in Newport from 1986-1989, so trips up to Providence for various reasons were routine (once or twice a month on average). The place seemed to get a bad rap in the media as far as organized crime went. I always enjoyed it. Good restaurants, bookstores, etc.

  7. 7
    CaptainHaddock says:

    Providence is a great little city – but has the strangest tasting tap water that I have had (in any state or country).

  8. 8
    Wendy says:

    I volunteer at Waterfire but wasn’t there this weekend (of all weekends, I had to go to NY for a family event yesterday). I usually like to stay on the shore, not in the boats, because on the shore I can chat with all the visitors. My sister and BIL (NYPD cop) visited once, and my BIL was amazed at how peaceful the whole event was and how nice everyone was to each other.

    I’m glad you enjoyed our city. I first drove in on a summer day in June 2003 for a job interview and fell in love.

  9. 9
    Linda Featheringill says:

    The netroots participants have become silent about the actual goings on of the meetings. I assume something happened.

    I guess if I wanted to know everything that happened, I should have attended myself, hmmm?

  10. 10
    Matt P says:

    I have attended two Waterfire events. VERY stimulating but mellow evenings. EVERYONE seemed to be in a good mood. Minimal drunkeness and other loutish behaviour. Some was really thinking when they put THAT together….

    EDIT by SG: Release from moderation. Two repeat comments deleted.

  11. 11
    ThresherK says:

    Went there once, and was additionally delighted by opera singers performing on the pathsides.

    Impressive because of the fires yours truly wasn’t even breathing easily, but they were just belting out like crazy, in a place with no acoustic, and it carried for a long way.

    A return trip is in order.

  12. 12
    Jewish Steel says:

    Providence, eh? I’ll put it on the list of possible landing spots once we get the Lady Steel thru grad school.

  13. 13
    DougJ says:

    @Linda Featheringill:

    Nothing exciting happened.

  14. 14
    skippy says:

    i have something to say about the politics of kos and the netroots nation.

    fuck kos and the netroots nation.

    but i’m not bitter.

  15. 15
    skippy says:

    plus: hey! today’s my birthday!

    double plus: next month skippy celebrates ten years of contiguous blogging!!

  16. 16
    smintheus says:

    When I was a kid in the ’60s and ’70s, the river running through Providence was so utterly foul you had to hold your nose while crossing the bridge. After I moved away friends told me it had been cleaned up and turned into a tourist attraction. That’s some 20 years ago and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the idea.

  17. 17
    Alison says:

    @skippy: Happy birthday! It’s also Eliot Spitzer’s birthday…you two should totally party together. I bet he’s got some ideas…

  18. 18
    smintheus says:

    @CaptainHaddock: What are you talking about? The water comes from the pristine Scituate reservoir and, at least back in the day, was superb.

  19. 19
    TOP123 says:

    @smintheus: Right? But true! I’ve been hearing good noises in recent years about Bridgeport, Conn., of all places.

  20. 20
    joes527 says:

    So, the highlight of NN was the evening you spent away from NN doing the tourist thing?

  21. 21
    TOP123 says:

    @CaptainHaddock: I was in Savannah, GA a number of years ago, opened the bathroom door of the house I was staying in, and it smelled like the septic had exploded directly into the bathroom. Nope, it was just that someone had just taken a shower.

    Lovely city in other ways, though.

  22. 22
    Jewish Steel says:

    Bloomington IL’s tap water apparently did not have a higher sulfur content, even though that was the CW. If memory serves it was the presence of some benign microbe, or bacterium, or animalcule that produced a distinct rotten egg smell. They cleaned it up about 15 years ago. Showering seemed pointless even though the smell didn’t linger on the body at all.

  23. 23
    TOP123 says:

    @Jewish Steel: This was a visit in July (funny, I lived in Atlanta at the time, and thought that was hot), when not showering was not an option, sadly. Majorly nausea-inducing. On another visit, when I stayed out in Richmond Hill, the water was fine; no idea what the difference was.

    ETA: the CW that was passed on to me at the time about Savannah had to do with high sulfur content, as well. Hope it wasn’t animiculae. Ick.

  24. 24
    nastybrutishntall says:

    Say what you will about mobster mayors, but Buddy Cianci was good for Providence. It was the best college town in the US when I was there in the early 90’s, really friendly to artists, a strange little oasis.

  25. 25
    Maude says:

    Not the same thing, but a place that packages dairy products made a mistake in the outdoor pool where they dump dairy stuff. They put in the wrong enzyme. For about two weeks the smell was unreal. And it spread for miles.
    There are a lot of car dealers close to there. It must have been something.

  26. 26
    TOP123 says:

    @nastybrutishntall: I was deeply disappointed to eventually discover that Buddy’s wife was not actually named Nancy-Ann.

  27. 27
    gogol's wife says:

    Isn’t it depressing that in an election year with the stakes as high as they are now, a gathering of supposedly left-ish people seems to have spent all their time complaining about Obama rather than girding their loins to fight Romney? Maybe I’m misreading the reports here, but I have a feeling this is why Mistermix and DougJ decided to focus on the river.

  28. 28
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @gogol’s wife: The river was, of course, crowded with real progressives being sold down it.

  29. 29
    Ben Franklin says:

    @gogol’s wife:

    What’s depressing is “nice guys finish last” We don’t need another 1972, with a hapless
    contingent behind the candidate (McGovern) pining for the softer version of ‘politics’.

    Politics is war, and scalps must be taken without apology.

  30. 30
    Baud says:

    @gogol’s wife: Fuck ’em. My loins are fully girded. Let’s take this thing.

  31. 31
    gogol's wife says:

    @Ben Franklin:

    I’m not sure what this comment means. Are you seriously comparing Obama to McGovern?

  32. 32
    Maude says:

    @Davis X. Machina:
    That was a beautiful comment.

  33. 33
    Ben Franklin says:

    @gogol’s wife:


    My comparison has to do with the style of the campaign. The disarray, the surrogates off-message; playing nice-nice, and tempering your speech out of fear you might offend someone.

    It’s a loser.

  34. 34
    joes527 says:

    @gogol’s wife: It is interesting. Obama himself recorded a message _thanking_ NN. He seems to get it. It is the folks around here going all emo over the fucking “emoprogs”

    We can’t have a circular firing squad if we let the side down, can we?

  35. 35
    Baud says:

    @Ben Franklin: You realize that what you described can also be said of the Romney campaign, even more so. The only difference is that the GOP doesn’t have concern trolls.

  36. 36
    Dr. Dave says:

    Glad that mistermix and DougJ enjoyed our little city. I will have been here 20 years in August and have seen most of the “renaissance” that came from cleaning up the rivers, demolishing the old community college campus to build an upscale shopping mall, and all the other things showing that a civic government with a vision can revitalize a neglected urban core. Agree with the earlier poster that for all of Buddy Cianci’s corruption, he was a catalyst for making Providence a city where people like to live and work, where students like to come to attend college (and sometimes stick around), and where tourists and conventioneers can come away with fond memories and unique experiences.

    Thanks for giving us a plug–we can certainly use the revenue that you tourists bring our direction! (But that’s another story…)

  37. 37
    WereBear says:

    @skippy: Happy Birthday skippy!

    And many more; of both years and blogging.

  38. 38
    normal liberal says:

    @Jewish Steel: Assumed sulfur has been replaced by agricultural runoff into the reservoir, which the treatment plant wasn’t configured to handle. They seem to have found a fix, but occasionally on turn on the tap to be greeted by a sulfur smell and water a color you desperately hope can be explained by dissolved rust. Don’t even think about effluent from the houses that line the lake. (Normal uses wells.)

    Speaking of Providence, didn’t things start looking up after many elected officials were indicted and removed? Or perhaps it’s just that I live in Illinois, and assume that civic improvements imply that the previous crowd of pols are now sporting orange jumpsuits.

  39. 39
    Dee Loralei says:

    Happy Birthday Skippy, creator of the blogoverse. Mine’s Thursday.

    The Waterfire looks and sounds lovely. I’ve always wanted to visit Providence. Can’t wait to hear y’alls take on NN, MrMix.

  40. 40
    Citizen_X says:

    the Kos after party, which was everything Waterfire wasn’t

    Fistfights, dog fights, and no PDAs?

  41. 41
    The Dangerman says:

    As I wake up (slowly!) this AM, I have to wonder:

    Why Providence?

    No disrespect intended RI’ers, but, after conventions in Chicago, Las Vegas, et al, I wouldn’t think Providence for a choice for a convention. Too many distractions in the big(ger) cities?

  42. 42
    Jewish Steel says:

    @normal liberal: Yeah! I’ve heard that too. Nitrates? Something nastier? Agri-business! Woohoo!

  43. 43

    @gogol’s wife:

    Isn’t it depressing that in an election year with the stakes as high as they are now, a gathering of supposedly left-ish people seems to have spent all their time complaining about Obama rather than girding their loins to fight Romney?

    The Blacking It Up crew has been reporting from NN this week (and the SEIU convention the week before that, and the NAACP Leadership 500 convention the week before that), and that’s not the impression I get from them at all. The people they’ve been talking to, tweeting about, etc. are gearing up for a fight.

  44. 44
    Maude says:

    How would we have any fun if we didn’t go after the emos?

  45. 45
    gogol's wife says:


    That’s good to hear.

  46. 46
    M Riles says:

    DougJ bait/Totebagger Alert: “Liberals Are Ruining America. I Know Because I Am One.”

    This, to be blunt, is the tragic flaw of the modern liberal. We choose to see ourselves as innocent victims of an escalating right-wing fanaticism. But too often we serve as willing accomplices to this escalation and to the resulting degradation of our civic discourse.

    But the real problem isn’t Limbaugh. He’s just a businessman who is paid to reduce complex cultural issues to ad hominem assaults. The real problem is that liberals, both on an institutional and a personal level, have chosen to treat for-profit propaganda as news. In so doing, we have helped redefine liberalism as an essentially reactionary movement. Rather than initiating discussion, or advocating for more humane policy, we react to the most vile and nihilistic voices on the right.

    Our liberal New York Times.

  47. 47
    Just Some Fuckhead says:


    How would we have any fun if we didn’t go after the emos?

    Or troll people!

    *slaps leg and cackles*

  48. 48
    normal liberal says:

    @Jewish Steel: Oh, who really knows? Those industrial ag formulas are secret for a reason.

    To tack to the post category of rare sincerity, please support your local small produce and/or livestock farmer. The more those folks are successful, the easier it is to move farm ground into organic food-for-humans production, and away from the vast swaths of industrial monoculture unsuitable-food-for-livestock that can only be sustained by pouring tons of God-knows-what on every acre.

    Gardens are great, but smaller-scale commercial (and organic) farms reduce negative impacts on the hydrological system and support greater biodiversity. But they need to be economically sustainable to get past the conventional wisdom of the ag extension offices and the farm bureaus.

    Buy some veggies or hormone-free milk or meat from someone local.

    Here endeth the rant.

  49. 49
    Jewish Steel says:

    @M Riles: From that same op ed:

    The underlying question — should American women receive help in protecting themselves from unwanted pregnancies? — is part of a serious and necessary national conversation.

    Conversation? I thought we already elected a guy who did something about this? Why do we need a conversation?

    That guy is one sorry sack of totebags.

  50. 50
    Maude says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead:
    Careful how high up you slap that leg.

  51. 51
    Yutsano says:

    @Jewish Steel: And no it’s not. Reproductive choice is the right of every woman. It’s the difference between being a modern society and a medieval one. This got settled forty years ago. Women are not going back in the kitchen to be mere incubators and servants to men. Get. Over. It.

  52. 52
    Jewish Steel says:

    @normal liberal: Amen. We deny agribusiness our dollars with vegetarianism. It would probably be more helpful to buy locally sourced, range fed etc, but we don’t eat meat.

  53. 53
    Chandler W. says:

    Kos, writing on DK, said the Obama campaign should be concerned with the lack of enthusiasm for Obama at Netroots.

    Is anyone else sick of the DK bunch who, as they write today, are in despair?

    Despair? Really?

    Are they that clueless?

  54. 54
    Jewish Steel says:

    @Yutsano: This guy is a media idiot. First he thinks he’s going to get a fair shake on Hannity then he thinks that if we just turned away from demagogues, politopia! Everyone makes kissy-kissy and our problems vanish.

    When do I get an op-ed? Pollyana motherfucker. grumble grumble.

  55. 55
    smintheus says:

    @Chandler W.: You could quit the place.

    If blogs had been around then, I can’t think of a single Democratic president that these same bloggers wouldn’t be wringing their hands over…at any stage of his presidency (the only exception being FDR, at a few select moments in his first term).

  56. 56
    smintheus says:

    @Jewish Steel:

    When do I get an op-ed?

    I guess when you quit your job as an adjunct prof over some trivial thing like a commencement speaker.

  57. 57
    Keith G says:

    @M Riles: The Times has the makings of a half a point. Reactive politics is seldom good politics and usually leads to awlful policy. Sometimes it does seem that some voices on the left spend more time in outrage mode then they do laying the groundwork for effective advocacy. Of course the problem is there is so much to be truly outraged about; still I think we might need to adjust the balance.

  58. 58
    harlana says:

    the Van Jones speech was brilliant! everyone should see it.

  59. 59
    skippy says:

    @Alison: @WereBear: @Dee Loralei:

    thanks you guys, and happy bday dee lorlei. you’re a gemini, too! that makes 4 of us!

  60. 60

    I had a friend who was married in Providence, right down by the park at the river. (I’m sure it’s called something, heck if I know. I only go to Providence to see the P-Bruins lose hockey games.) They had the Waterfire lit for their wedding.

    I can think of a myriad of ways I would have spent the $10,000.00 that cost them. Should have just done the wedding when it was taking place, dummies.

    Nice little city, though.

  61. 61
    g says:

    It’s been over a decade since I’ve been to Providence, but when I was there it was lovely. Great italian food, good arts scene, theatre town.

  62. 62
    Kilkee says:

    Oh, Providence is all well and good, but if you want a really fine little East Coast city to rave about, come to Portland this summer. Great restaurants, progressive politics, surprising diversity, architecture to die for. Oh, and we have an ocean.

  63. 63

    @Kilkee: And a better hockey team. I used to live in Portland and the surrounding area. Great city. I miss it now.

  64. 64
    Peter VE says:

    Saturday night’s WaterFire

  65. 65

    […] strongly partisan Balloon Juice, mistermix agrees on the lack of fire: “After Waterfire, we trekked to some bar for the Kos after party, which […]

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