Orange Solstice Riverfest back with vendors, performers and traditional lighted boat parade

  • Boats adorned with elaborate light displays parade during Saturday’s Orange Solstice Riverfest. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Inspiraled Arts fire dancers perform during Saturday’s Orange Solstice Riverfest. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Boats adorned with elaborate light displays parade during Saturday’s Orange Solstice Riverfest. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Inspiraled Arts fire dancers perform during Saturday’s Orange Solstice Riverfest. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Boats adorned with elaborate light displays parade during Saturday’s Orange Solstice Riverfest. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Inspiraled Arts fire dancers perform during Saturday’s Orange Solstice Riverfest. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Children play at Saturday’s Orange Solstice Riverfest. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Children play at Saturday’s Orange Solstice Riverfest. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Attendees at Saturday’s Orange Solstice Riverfest. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Boats adorned with elaborate light displays parade during Saturday’s Orange Solstice Riverfest. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

For the Recorder
Published: 6/26/2022 1:43:06 PM
Modified: 6/26/2022 1:42:35 PM

ORANGE — A slew of vendors, performers and, of course, the lighted boat parade captivated the attention of adults and children alike during Saturday’s Orange Solstice Riverfest, the first full-fledged version of the event since 2019.

Solstice Riverfest, held from 5 to 10 p.m., was primarily organized by the Whaland family, owners of Billy Goat Boats. Due to COVID-19 health safety restrictions, the event was canceled altogether in 2020 and only the lighted boat parade was held in 2021. Organizer Samantha Hakala-Whaland said she and her family were more than excited to resurrect the full event.

In addition to the lighted boat parade, the festival featured a full entertainment lineup, with live music, comedians, wine tasting and more than 20 vendors. Among them were the Inside/Out Dance Company, a local youth dance studio, and the fire dancers of Inspiraled Arts, who performed wondrous feats such as holding a burning umbrella with their mouths.

Handler Alex Hartley, of the Gardner-based Reptile Shows of New England, shared the organization’s rescued creatures, such as snakes and turtles, with attendees. The group travels to events across New England and has been coming to the Solstice Riverfest since 2018.

Hartley said he tries to gently cure people of their herpetophobia (fear of reptiles), noting that most of the time, it is an inherited fear.

“Snakes have had a bad rap since the Bible,” he said.

Also present was Quabbin Valley Paranormal. Based in Orange, the nonprofit was holding a fundraiser to help buy new equipment. Paranormal investigator Heidi Ash said the nonprofit responds to reports of paranormal activity in people’s homes, and provides evidence following an investigation. While this marked Quabbin Valley Paranormal’s first year at Solstice Riverfest, the organization has been around since 2007.

Other vendors were at Solstice Riverfest for more emotional reasons. Local children’s book author Christine Noyes, a 32-year resident of Orange, spoke about how she got into writing to cope with the death of her husband, Al. Noyes describes Al, who died in 2018, as a “larger-than-life” figure. The Orange Planning Board member was always happy and made friends better than anyone, Noyes said.

In addition to writing a memoir, Noyes has also immortalized her husband by writing a series of children’s books starring an anthropomorphic bear named Big Al. Noyes was operating a booth at Solstice Riverfest with her sister, who is also an author.

“We are resilient,” Noyes said. “We’ve learned a lot.”

Another vendor who had suffered a loss was Priscilla Gaignard, of the Victoria Rose Scholarship Fund. The fund is named after Gaignard’s granddaughter, a dancer who died in a fire in 2016, at just 8 years old. In memory of her granddaughter, Gaignard sells keepsake stones so that children who can’t afford dance lessons can earn a scholarship to take them.

As the sun set, the climax of the festival — the traditional lighted boat parade — arrived. Canoes, kayaks and other non-motorized watercraft paddled near the Orange Community Boathouse and the Fire Station for judging. The parade included boats with themes as diverse as “Stranger Things,” Bigfoot, “Moana,” Mario and Luigi, Harry Potter, first responders and leprechauns.

After the boat parade, four awards were given. Best Family Theme went to the “Moana” boat, Best Lit went to the “Stranger Things” boat, Most Creative was awarded to the first responders boat, and Best Overall was given to Mario and Luigi.

Following the awards, Cody Sawin, who played Luigi, said he and his friend, Bob Bouchard, who played Mario, were surprised and honored to win the Best Overall award. He joked about how the idea was planned on short notice.

“We didn’t know we were doing this until five days ago,” Sawin said.


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