Annual Captains dinner signals start of sternwheel festival

MARIETTA – The 2013 Ohio River Sternwheel Festival and three days of fun, food and entertainment officially kicks off with opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. today on the entertainment barge along the Ohio River levee.

But the “unofficial” festival opening began Thursday with the annual captains dinner.

“It’s our welcome for the captains, to show our appreciation for coming to this year’s festival,” said Mike Spahr, the 2013 festival’s director general.

He said 21 boats arrived by Thursday afternoon, and all 21 captains and their guests were invited to the outdoor dinner in the lot on the Ohio River side of the Lafayette Hotel.

“Years ago it used to be a more formal coat and tie dinner,” Spahr said. “We even had the Kingston Trio perform one year. But over the years it has become a more casual event near the levee as the captains don’t want to be too far from their boats.”

He said the opening ceremonies will include welcoming comments from Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews and the National Anthem, sung by local soloist Sandy Wiseman.

“She really has a great voice,” Spahr said.

Wiseman is also co-chair of the Queen Genevieve Committee and coordinates the Little Miss and Mister Sternwheel Contest that will be held in the Lafayette Hotel ballroom at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

“We have 25 children participating this year, and 23 are girls,” she said. “The number of boys seems to change from year to year. Some years we have several, others only a few apply.”

Wiseman said the Little Miss and Mister Sternwheel event, for children 5 to 8 years old, hasn’t always been part of the festival.

“The first year was 1995,” she said. “We needed a little boy and girl for the queen coronation ceremony on Saturday. They bear the crown and hold the train of the queen’s cape during the coronation.”

Wiseman said the Little Miss and Mister Sternwheel are chosen based on poise and their ability to speak in front of a large crowd. She said the public is welcome to attend the contest Friday night.

As in past years, musical entertainment will be a big part of the festival, beginning at 7 p.m. Friday with local favorites Steve and Bev Pottmeyer, who have been the first act to take the entertainment barge stage for several years. They’ll be followed by Jimmy Buffett tribute band Parrots of the Caribbean at 8 p.m., and country music duo Steel Magnolia at 9:30 p.m.

Spahr said there will be plenty of food and other items for sale by a total of 27 vendors on all three days of this year’s festival.

Saturday’s festival schedule begins at 11:30 a.m. with introduction of the Queen Genevieve candidates on the entertainment barge. Announcement of the 2013 queen and her coronation will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

“We have five girls competing this year, and they’re all very intelligent, qualified candidates,” said Patti Haynes with the Queen Genevieve committee.

She said there were seven candidates last year, and there have been as many as 15 during past Sternwheel Festivals. Candidates have to be enrolled in an accredited educational institution in order to qualify for the scholarships awarded during the festival each year.

“The pageant is actually held two weeks prior to the Sternwheel Festival, but we don’t announce and crown the winner until Saturday,” Haynes said.

This year’s winner will receive a $1,500 scholarship, the first runner-up a $750 scholarship, second runner-up a $500 scholarship, and one $500 scholarship will also be awarded to be used at Washington State Community College.

“The scholarship funds are donated to the Sternwheel Committee from various area businesses,” Haynes said.

Queen Genevieve represents the Sternwheel Festival at various events throughout the year.

Saturday’s entertainment kicks off at noon on the barge stage with the Marietta High School Wall of Sound Band, followed at 1 p.m. by the MHS Choir.

A variety of musical groups will entertain throughout the afternoon and evening, with Motown Sound of Touch headlining at 8:30 p.m., followed by the annual Harry J. Robinson Fireworks display at 9:30 p.m.

The massive pyrotechnics exhibition always draws a huge crowd, and Spahr noted that folks planning to attend Saturday’s event can park their vehicles at the Washington County Fairgrounds where shuttle bus service will be provided to the festival throughout the day.

The festival begins Sunday with sunrise services on the Ohio River levee at 8 a.m., followed at 9 a.m. by the annual Ohio River Sternwheel Festival Car Show which runs through 4 p.m. on Second Street.

Sunday’s highlight will include the popular Captain James E. Sands Memorial Sternwheel Races at 1 p.m.

Musical entertainment will be headlined by The Chase at noon and 2 p.m., and the festival will wrap up with a performance by The WannaBeatles at 2:30 p.m.

Entertainment and festivities are also planned across the river at the Williamstown boat ramp, beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday, according to Jeff DePuy with the city’s festival committee.

“We’ll have three bands throughout the day and 13 vendors,” he said. “There will also be inflatables and special activities for kids.”

DePuy said a large crowd has gathered every year to watch the fireworks from the Williamstown boat ramp, so for the last four or five years the committee has provided entertainment and activities in conjunction with the Sternwheel Festival in Marietta.

Bands playing on that side of the river Saturday include Triple Threat from 1 to 4 p.m., Loose As It Gets from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., and Killing Time from 8 p.m. until the fireworks begin, and afterward till 11 p.m.