For the first time in two years, fireworks will explode over East Ferry to commemorate American independence from Great Britain.
The event is scheduled for July 3 with the Next Stop Band providing live entertainment at Veterans Memorial Square. Jamestown resident Bob Bailey, who helped organize the display annually from 2007-19 as a member of the Rocket ’hogs, will return to his duties.
According to Bailey, TPG Marinas, which purchased Conanicut Marine in December, asked about being a corporate sponsor for the event following the two-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“They wanted to see if we could rekindle it and get it back on the event calendar,” he said.
Despite Bailey’s participation, the Rocket ’hogs are not making a full-fledged return aside from “lending a hand” and using their social media pages to promote the fireworks. The town’s recreation department and chamber of commerce are collaborating as the technical hosts.
Ray DeFalco, director of parks and recreation, has not seen fireworks at East Ferry since he was hired in April 2021. Conversations with Town Administrator Jamie Hainsworth and Police Chief Ed Mello began in February about a return of the event.
“There’s a lot of people involved in these conversations,” DeFalco said. “Because the townspeople love it so much, we wanted to make sure that if people from the community didn’t have the time or the resources to get it going, the town would back the people who have done it in the past and make sure it happens.”
The display will be conducted by the Pyrotecnico company from Pennsylvania. The barge that will be used to launch the fireworks will be provided by Borden Light Marine of Fall River, Mass., and it will be located due east of the marina. The display will be about 25 minutes in length, and the date will not conflict with the Newport show scheduled for Independence Day.
Before the explosive show commences at 9 p.m., the Next Stop Band will perform from 7:30-9. The rock group was recommended by Bailey because its lineup features former Jamestown resident John Titmas. The Jamestown Community Band also is scheduled to perform. Bailey, a local Realtor, said he hopes the display is a boon for the commercial district. With the event three months away, DeFalco and Bailey still are planning to solicit more businesses along Conanicus and Narragansett avenues to participate.
“We really want to see the businesses do well,” Bailey said. “Many businesses are coming on board this year for the first time. We hope that by having this event, it will put Jamestown back on the map for people to continue to come back to during the summer.”
“We’re trying to get local businesses to either stay open or participate in some way,” added DeFalco.
So far, Bailey said he has received pledges from two forthcoming restaurants. They are Beech, which is opening at the former site of Simpatico, and JB’s on the Water, the new tenant at the Bay Voyage.
“We’re looking for corporate sponsorships and local residents to support the aspects so that the expense is not on taxpayers,” Bailey said.
In the past, the fireworks were a public-private partnership with the Rocket ’hogs soliciting donations, scheduling the event, and hiring the pyrotechnic company, barge contractor, and live performers. The town was responsible for collecting the money and insuring the event. That was done because the Rocket ’hogs were not a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, and using the municipal account allowed the event to be tax-deductible.
The shows in 2020 and ’21 were canceled due to the pandemic, and DeFalco said contingencies will be discussed if Rhode Island experiences another COVID-19 uptick. DeFalco, however, does not foresee this happening.
“It’s an outside event,” he said. “Generally, in the summer as people get outside, things are a little safer.”
In 2020, just before the COVID 19 pandemic hit Rhode Island, Jamestown residents Barbara Szepatowski and Tom McNiff accepted organizing duties from the retiring Rocket ’hogs. They remarketed the event as JTown Lights & Magic, but both of their shows were scuttled because of the virus.
Despite their past efforts, which were canceled to no fault of their own, Szepatowski and McNiff are not the primary hosts for the 2022 event. Bailey said it is simpler logistically for the town to host the show.
“Rather than get back into a new group to organize it, the town really wants to be the lead sponsor,” he said.
Along with McNiff, Szepatowski said she has offered to assist with the event. It is too early, however, to determine how much help will be needed. Szepatowski said they “hope to do it in the future,” but if not, “So be it. As long as we have it.”