Now that’s a festival!
The City of Miami Springs Public Works cleanup crews were out in full force on Monday morning, April 14. And with good reason. Another River Cities Festival was now in the books and there was plenty of cleaning up to be done.
And while the Festival has enjoyed modest success in a comeback attempt in recent years from what was widely perceived as a “drunken beerfest” as recently as seven or eight years ago, it was nothing close to what took place last weekend.
With River Cities Gazette Publisher Tom Curtis taking over the reins as executive director for the first time since back in the mid-’90s, the Festival enjoyed three days of near-perfect weather and subsequently huge crowds.
Vendor space was sold out well in advance, including the area between the bridges, which had been a barren wasteland in the past. Kids World, thanks to pre-sale wristbands offering unlimited rides for $50, was jammed up with plenty of little ones enjoying rides.
“I can’t be happier with the way things went and the crowds that came out,” Curtis said. “One of the things you can’t control is the weather and the weather gods took good care of us.”
Not only did the rain stay away but a nice easterly breeze made for not-too-hot temperatures during the day and beautfully pleasant cool evenings.
Incredibly, as if on cue, at precisely 8:45 p.m. on Sunday evening as all vendors were breaking down, the skies opened up and it poured.
“Amazing,” said Curtis. “All week we kept our eye on the weather reports and kept our fingers crossed. Then we get the great weather all weekend until closing time. How fortunate is that?”
The Festival’s peak time came on Saturday night when so many people lined the Circle area that getting from one side to the other was a mission. The wonderfully breezy night served as a perfect backdrop as an estimated 8,000 people — according to Curtis, who asked others for their estimate as well — “dropped by” between 6 p.m. and midnight for some food, free entertainment and socializing with familiar faces. A big player in the Festival in recent years has now become the Miami Springs Senior High School “Mega Reunion,” which once again was a huge success and contributed significantly to the large number of Festival attendees on Saturday night.
“Between Friday and Saturday I never stopped and actually ran out of product both days,” said Libby Barner, waitress at Johnny’s Luncheonette who had set up a table in front of Johnny’s frying fresh conch fritters and serving conch salad.
The entertainment? Loaded.
The biggest buzz no doubt was created by Woodys West End Tavern owner Fred Suco. For the first time, Suco became intricately involved with the Festival by setting up a huge entertainment stage along with a fenced-in VIP area in the back parking lot behind the old movie theater near the outgoing bridge.
The crowd Friday night in the parking lot? So thick you couldn’t move, and with good reason. The headline entertainer was multi-Grammy winner Tito Puente Jr. followed by the Latin tropical music team of Hansel Y Raul.
Not to be upstaged, the Showmobile on the Circle had plenty of talent lined up as well as local favorite Room Service kicked things off on Friday night before Mr. Nice Guy, with lead guitarist Tom Hall getting the crowd revved up over his signature song, Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like I Do,” closed things out.
Saturday performances at the Showmobile included other local favorites Twisted Williee and The Cat Daddies during the day and The Regs and The Blue Fire Band in prime time. The Blue Fire Band, down from West Palm Beach, featured violinist Randi Fishenfeld, who brought the crowd to their feet with an amazing solo performance.
IKO IKO and Eclipse stepped up late Sunday afternoon and early evening to close out the Festival entertainment.
Even the opening ceremonies on Friday night were a bigger success than in the past. Having taken place around 5:30 or 6 p.m. in past years to “kick things off” by honoring local dignitaries, the problem had always simply been that nobody was there yet.
Last week, after Flashpoint performed for 90 minutes to kick things off, opening ceremonies took place at 7:30 p.m. What a difference! A big crowd watched Miami Springs Mayor Zavier Garcia and Virginia Gardens Mayor Spencer Deno IV pay tribute to the Springs/VG U-12 girls soccer team while also introducing county commissioners Rebeca Soca and Jose “Pepe” Diaz along with District 5 School Board member Susie Castillo.
“How about that? We actually did this in front of people this time,” Deno quipped as he exited the stage.
Of course, what would the River Cities Festival be without all the usual standbys in place, starting with the Miami Springs Lions Club. For the umpteenth year in a row, if you wanted some delicious corn on the cob, the Lions Club tent was right there where it’s always been, on the corner of Canal and Curtiss Parkway.
The 5K Run/Walk put on its fourth annual edition and plenty of runners showed up on Saturday morning. Brenda Knight once again had her Junior Jazzercisers performing, while Ray Rodriguez from Ray’s Tae Kwon Do School put on another impressive demonstration from their martial arts students on Saturday. For the third consecutive year, after a previous six-year absence, Shahar returned with her team of belly dancers to delight the audience (which included plenty of males!) in front of the Gazebo on Friday evening.
The usual activities arrived and you had three traditions — the Cake Bake-Off, Dr. Thomas Campbell’s Dog & Cat show at Woodys West End Stage, and, of course, the ever-popular Chili Showdown where this year, an individual, Daniel Verdier, not representing any commercial business, took home the first-place trophy.
Stone crabs and seared tuna, provided by Incredible Fish owner Tim Lycke, have also become popular items at the Festival and for the sixth year in a row the Miami Springs Optimist Club had its tent set up right across from the Lions Club on Canal Street.
Freshly cracked stone crabs on ice and delicious seasoned seared tuna, grilled on a skillet right in front of the customers, kept volunteers in the tent busy all weekend, which spoke volumes about satisfied customers.
The bass fishing tournament, another Optimist standby event, took place again, and for the third year in a row Mark Bain and Chief of Police Pete Baan had an archery shooting tent sent up in front of Circle Barber Shop. For $5 a pop, archers could take their best shot at nailing the bull’s-eye, with a big 32-inch flat-screen TV awaiting the winner.
Thanks to the efforts, planning and hard work of Curtis and the entire Festival Committee, who seemed to be everywhere on their golf carts for the more than 24 hours the Festival was open over three days, virtually everything came off right.
“I think about 90 percent of our vendors were extremely happy with how things went and the business they did and I am confident we will get them back again next year,” said Curtis. “This was nothing close to a one-man show and I can’t thank my staff enough for all of their help in making this such a big success.”
And we would be remiss not to mention the City of Miami Springs, whose police and public works employees kept everyone safe and the grounds clean.
It’s about 360 days or so until the 2015 Springs River Festival and looking forward to it is natural while reliving the one that just passed.