I used to live on North Main Street in Beacon Falls and still remember the very first RiverFest and Duck Race back in 1999. The only big event in town every year had always been the Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 Carnival, and it was pretty cool having such a new, unique festival in little old Beacon Falls.
11 years (11 years!?) later, the Beacon Falls RiverFest and Duck Race is an annual tradition in town, and I’m proud to say not only that I’ve been to each one, but for the last five festivals, I’ve been the emcee.
Like every job I’ve been lucky to have, it’s a great gig. I get to hang out with a lot of great people from town — this year, in excellent weather — and sort of oversee the entire event to make sure it runs as smoothly as possible.
I get to play my favorite music when we don’t have live bands. Yes, that means a heavy dose of Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, and the rest of my country playlist. But don’t worry, I also toss in a little classic rock, some dance tunes, and even a bit of pop and hip-hop.
When I’m not pumping up the jams (yeah, I said it), I get to listen to the outstanding live acts we book every year. This year, the Red Dirt Road Band made another trip to town, playing some high-quality Americana, country, and gospel music. Of course, you’ll remember the band features Beacon Falls police officer Bill McCasland, and the guys and gals put on a great show every time I see them play.
I do manage to get around the grounds to check out the vendors and booths, perhaps the most underrated part of the RiverFest. I always make sure to visit the Naugatuck Valley Savings & Loan table to see what great free items they have to give away (this year, I took a bouncy ball, two pens, and a bottle opener/flashlight keychain).
My favorite part of this year’s event was the amount of free food I was given by vendors as long as I plugged their organizations when I made my occasional announcements. I was particularly pleased with the fried dough with apple topping Beacon Hose gave me, but I also enjoyed some beef and rice and a bowl of chili with the works. (By the way, thanks for the cheesecake, Aunt Sheila!)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t stop into the firehouse and try my hand at the 911 simulator like I used to when I was a little kid, or if I didn’t check out the Woodland Fine Arts Booster Club’s silent auction. I also couldn’t miss Beacon Hose’s vehicle extrication demo or USA Martial Arts’ karate demo.
The Duck Race — the original here in the Valley — is, of course, the featured event, but it almost had to be postponed due to high water. But the Lions Club didn’t let that happen as a few members went into the river to make sure the ducks floated for a 12th time.
I’m not going to lie, I enjoy announcing any winners from Beacon Falls, but I also like much more to announce a winner who is actually there to accept the prize. This year’s grand prize was a hot air balloon ride for four. I hope the winner isn’t afraid of heights.
I will say there is one thing I don’t like about the RiverFest and Duck Race — carrying the sound system and speakers back into the Senior Center basement. Boo-hoo, I know.