Sharon Grant is in her third year as the director of operations for the annual Alexandria Red Cross Waterfront Festival. Every edition, she said, brings its own challenges and educational experiences.
"I think that we’re getting better at finding what really draws people to the festival, which is the entertainment," she said. "It’s two different demographics: In the morning, it’s families that want to put their kids on the rides. In the evening, it’s more of a concert-goer demographics. We’re getting better at figuring out what brings people through the gates."
The 26th annual Waterfront Festival is scheduled for Saturday, June 16 from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday, June 17 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Oronoco Bay Park, located at the northern end of Union St. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children 2-12 years old, with children under 2 free. Howard Belfor, the 2007 Festival Chairman, said the funds raised at the festival account for roughly 20 percent of the annual operating budget for the Alexandria Chapter of the Red Cross. All proceeds from the festival go to support the community relief services and safety education programs of the Alexandria Red Cross.
If Grant is correct that evening produce a concert-goer demographic, then this year’s festival should produce big crowds. Saturday’s headliners are Bowling for Soup, the Grammy-nominated party band best known for its rocking ode to the New Wave era, "1985." Sunday’s top-billed artist is Uncle Kracker, who has gone from behind Kid Rock’s right hand man to a top-selling country rock solo artist.
The musical entertainment also features several national artists and local favorites, including Alexandria’s own Carbon Copy and Virginia Coalition.
Grant said a festival partnership with Mix 107.3 helped produce the impressive bill. Typically, acts will wait until the area concert venues book for the summer before giving something like the Waterfront Festival consideration, according to Grant. "This year I think we got pretty lucky," she said.
ALONG WITH MUSIC, the two-day festival returns the features that bring crowds that Belfor estimates are larger than 40,000 strong: food, exhibitors and family fun.
"The crab cake lady is back," said Belfor, adding that several "fresh foods" vendors will be on hand to help counter-balance the typical festival fare like candy and funnel cakes. The Food Court on Pendleton Street features food that includes local barbecue, chili, seafood, smoothies and old fashioned sodas. Snacks will be on available throughout the park.
There are over 60 arts and crafts vendors at the festival, and exhibitors from around the local business community. "It’s the home improvement exhibitor list this year," said Grant. "A lot of the condo companies that are going in Old Town are supporting us. A lot of home improvement people are supporting us."
Returning rides include the popular Ferris wheel; tickets for rides come in sheets of 24 for $10, individually for $.50 and wristbands for unlimited rides from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Sunday are $15 each day.
There will be an appearance by the Schooner Sultana at the festival — a tall ship, but not as tall as some of the ships that have been featured in the past. "We’re having kind of a tough year with the nautical events because of the Wilson Bridge project," said Grant. "We’re only getting one tall ship this year because it can fit under the bridge without the bridge opening."
On Saturday night, the festival’s traditional fireworks display will light up the sky; Belfor hopes the weather cooperates. "We’re already ordered the weather, and I hope it comes in as expected," he said, with a laugh.
Belfor and his wife Sandi have volunteered their time for more than 10 years; he said he appreciates each of the 700 or so volunteers that help put together and pull off this annual fundraiser for the Red Cross.
"We want to have a safe and fun-filled opportunity for people of all ages," he said.
For more information on the Waterfront Festival or to work as a volunteer, please visit the festival’s website, www.waterfrontfestival.org.