WaterFire: Avoid the Crowds, Not the Magic

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, you know that Providence is home to the world’s first and finest WaterFire. If you’ve never been, what the hell is wrong with you? Go now, because it’s as good as everyone says it is. If you’ve have been but haven’t returned in a while because you can’t face the crowds, I have two simple solutions for you: Go early or go late.

It might sound obvious, and I feel almost a little foolish suggesting this, but clearly it needs to be said, because WaterFire is always insanely crowded at peak times, meaning most people either don’t know about these solutions or aren’t interested. I’m here to inform and/or convince you otherwise.

My favorite WaterFire was the first one I ever attended, when WaterFire was a new “thing” and no one was there. The hazy glow of the fire, the cool night air, the scent of burning wood, the music —  all of it made the night transcendent, and I thought I’d been transplanted to a different planet or state of consciousness. As time passed, they made the event even better by adding food, wine (WINE!!!), vendors, artists – the event became an international phenomenon … and so came the crowds. This is when I took a long hiatus from WaterFire, as crowds have top billing in my list of least favorite things, along with rats, heights, Donald Trump and trifles. Yes, trifles (gag).


Jump ahead a number of years. The night of a full lighting in June, my husband and I took our then young children to Providence for dinner at Harry’s burgers a little before 6pm. Because WaterFire starts at sunset, and in June, sunset is after 8pm, we easily scored parking on-street as the crowds had not yet begun to descend. We enjoyed our sliders and Moscow Mules while the kids drank milkshakes. Then we hit the streets. Not all vendors were out yet, but there was enough going on to make things interesting.

We landed at the auditorium area where all the action happens; something I’d yet to experience.  Nothing had started, but our kids made friends and we grabbed a glass of wine so we didn’t mind waiting around. Eventually the festivities started. There was plenty of fanfare: a chorus of singers, a dance troupe, the Rhode Show – lots to see. Eventually the ethereal music began and the first set of boats carried the firelighters into the arena. It was a spectacle for sure. Once the fires were lit, we walked slowly back to our car and got out of there before the crowds arrived. Perfection.

Jump ahead another few years when my preference on a Saturday night was to get a sitter. A leisurely dinner at Kebab and Curry on the East Side kept us occupied until after 10pm. We found out there was a WaterFire and decided to stop by. By the time we parked (and parking was easy), it was 10:30. The crowds had thinned out significantly, but the action didn’t dissipate. The artists, the vendors, the music – all of it was still going strong. Okay, not that strong, but it was enough for me. We walked around till almost midnight as the vendors packed up their wares and the fires burned down to embers. Magic achieved, once again.

If you’re like me and detest crowds, don’t avoid WaterFire. Just go early, or go late. Other than parking stresses, traffic and bumping into strangers in the dark, you won’t miss a thing.

Check out this year’s WaterFire schedule here: