Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Riverfest Mermaid Promenade in 2019. (Photo Cambridge Arts)

The Cambridge Arts River Festival returns Saturday for the first full, in-person celebration since 2019, and just in time for its 50-year anniversary.

Riverfests draw 175,000 attendees for a day of live performance, food and art. This year, there will be six stages for music, dance, theater and poetry featuring local and global artists free and open to all, rain or shine. Performers range from the Central Square Theater and The Puppeteers Cooperative to the Veronica Robles Female Mariachi Band and Grammy-winner Yaure Muniz’s Afro Cuban Ensemble.

Attendees should expect an immersive experience of creative arts with buskers, exhibits to browse and interactive art-making activities all day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Attendees can also buy at an arts and crafts market and support the local creative economy.

All this activity is sure to make a festivalgoer hungry. Not to worry.

“Foods and flavors from around the world” will be available for purchase, said Greg Cook of Cambridge Arts. “[We are] really looking forward to being back with people, and hope people really come out and celebrate with us.”

Music stages are a vital part of Riverfest entertainment. This is from the 2019 event in Cambridge’s Central Square. (Photo Cambridge Arts)

Returning this year after a debut in 2019 is the Mermaid Promenade, in which all who wish to participate as “mermaids, mermen and many more water creatures” can don scales for a procession down Memorial Drive to mark the official start of the festival. The promenade is an extension of Riverfest’s celebration of the creative arts and an homage to its founding mission in 1974 of raising awareness about the quality and conditions of the Charles River – a theme that has transcended the decades as climate change continues to threaten local ecosystems.

Riverfest is also welcoming an interactive art installation by the Shade is Social Justice program, which “uses art and design to rethink how we could bring shade [to Cambridge] and bring attention toward community solutions to global climate issues,” Cook said. Shade is Social Justice features a half-dozen artists, designers and architects commissioned by the city to reimagine how shade structures can fight rising heat.

While the festival has floated through various locations over the years – with three years in East Cambridge from 2015 to 2018, and its last location in Central Square in 2019 – this year Riverfest finds its home by Harvard Square, along Memorial Drive between JFK Street and Western Avenue.

President of the Central Square Business Improvement District, Michael Monestime, who supported Riverfest’s temporary relocation to Central Square, acknowledges Riverfest’s historical connection to the Charles: “We supported it being in the square in a time where the riverway was under construction. We always knew it would move back.”

Instead of Riverfest coming to Central Square, the square will go to Riverfest with a Western Front Stage – inspired by its location near Western Avenue where the historic Western Front music venue and nightclub once stood. The stage and its performances are dedicated to Martin Gilmore, a Cantabrigian and founder of the nightclub, “who created something authentically Black when there weren’t too many venues which welcomed Black and Brown musicians,” Monestime said. Featured performers will include local Cambridge dance groups such as The Hip Hop Transformation and SocaFusion, as well as musical performances from the Naya Rockers and Costa Rican artist Manolo Mairena.

Central Square is a “place for music and discovery,” Monestime said, and the Business Improvement District is searching for ways to “really play tribute to that.”

“Riverfest is one of those annual events which brings joy to Cantabrigians. It is really important that people plan for it – bring your families, bring your mom, bring whoever. The Central Square Business Improvement District celebrates the Arts Council’s hard work. Riverfest belongs along the River’s edge, and we are excited to contribute,” Monestime said.

Though it’s seen the departure of events such as the annual Jazz Festival and World’s Fair, Central Square is “still Cambridge’s only cultural district” and will have events of its own to trumpet, Monestime said. “Hopefully we will have some good news to announce really soon.”