FAIRMONT — For 38 years, what’s now called the Three Rivers Festival has occurred like clockwork on Fairmont’s events calendar.
Always on Memorial Day weekend, a Palatine Park promenade filled with whirling carnival rides, noisy games of chance, and crowded with locals and visitors kicking off their summers. Grand parades with princesses and floats launched the weekend. Fierce competitions unfolded throughout its days.
In 2020, the year of coronavirus, there could be not of that.
First the date changed, pushed to mid-June. Then the social restrictions enacted to combat the COVID-19 virus, now in their fourth month, decimated an always impressive festival agenda that seems to get bigger and more diverse each year.
Gone was the world-famous pepperoni roll-eating championship. Joey Chestnut would stay home this week. Absent was the strongman contest. There would be no grand parade through the city streets, no clipper ship cruises on the Monongahela River, and, sadly, not a single carnival ride on the midway.
But credit the Three Rivers Festival planning committee. They salvaged the music portion of the festival and provided a full day of it Saturday before declaring victory and closing a scaled-down, six-feet-apart edition of the festival with a bang, its classic fireworks show.
“We’ve got family in the area, so we plan our Memorial Day weekend around coming to Fairmont, visiting with them, and making the festival part of an early summer vacation,” said Susan Douglas of Lexington, Kentucky, who grew up in Fairmont. “We expected the festival to be cancelled or at least smaller this year and were surprised to see the lineup of bands playing today. It’s a beautiful day for music in the park.”
A heavy presence of security officers, mostly Marion County Police Reserves, guarded all entrances to the stage areas, there to gently enforce social distancing rules. No more than 100 individuals could be on the lawn in front of stage at the same time. Six feet apart is the rule. Hand sanitizer canisters the size of fresh cotton candy spools could be found at all entryways.
Some people came for the free music, which lasted most of the day and into the night, much of its streamed live on the festival’s Facebook page.
Among the bands performing Saturday evening were MDB, Audio Archive, and Liquid A.
“I’m a big fan of the band MDB, so my girlfriend and came out to listen to them,” said Charles McCutcheon of Middletown, as he stretched out in a lawn chair. “The stage and acoustics here at Palatine Park are great for listening to live music. The scenery along the river is beautiful. It’s a nice event.”
Other Saturday activities at the Three Rivers Festival included the Jerry Ragen Car Show at Baptist Temple Church parking lot and the fireworks show.
Eleanor Snyder of Bridgeport, who grew up in rural Marion County, has been attending the Three Rivers Festival since the its early days in the 1980s.
“My niece was named Miss Congeniality at one of the coal festivals, way back in 1980-something and I’ve been coming to them ever since,” Snyder said. “It’s always a nice event and even when it’s downsized because of something like this pandemic, they still find a way to make it nice.”