MARIETTA - Drivers, start your outboard motors.
Local residents, speed-freaks, and water bugs wandered, danced and hula-hooped through the streets of Marietta Friday night, as the opening of the 14th annual Riverfront Roar and the July Merchants and Artist Walk happily collided.
Scoping out some of the sleek, high-speed boats that will be making waves on the Ohio River this weekend were Coshocton resident Hannah Dilly and her 23-month-old daughter Ava Harwell.
Crowds stroll through the rows of speed boats lining Front Street Friday evening. The boats were on display for the opening day of the 14th annual Riverfront Roar, which coincided with a busy Merchants and Artist Walk. (Photo by Jasmine Rogers)
Participants enjoy a drum circle Friday night on Front Street as large crowds flocked to Merchants and Artist Walk and the opening night of the Riverfront Roar. (Photo by Jasmine Rogers)
"My mother and her boyfriend live here and I came down with her to show her the boats," said Dilly as little Ava ran her hands along a particularly colorful boat.
The Roar revved into action Friday night, with boats lining the closed-to-traffic Front and Second streets and live music on the levee.
The annual event is a favorite among racers and a huge draw for spectators, said Dave Hensel, a veteran racer who also helps coordinate the race with the Buckeye Outboard Association.
"This is the most popular race site in OPC (Outboard Performance Craft)," said Hensel.
If the race's sanctioning body-the American Powerboat Association-is NASCAR, then the races in Marietta are the sport's Daytona 500, said Hensel.
Meandering along Second Street Friday afternoon, Lower Salem resident Eric Davis, 33, brought his young sons with him.
"I just picked them up from day care, and I thought they'd like to come down and see the boats," said Davis of 4-year-old Hayden and 2-year-old Marshall.
Hayden, wide-eyed and inquisitive, said he liked seeing the boats and might be a racer one day.
"But I don't have one yet," he said of the boats.
Opening night of the Roar coincided with the July Merchants and Artist Walk. The dual events work nicely together, said those attending, drawing race attendees into local shops and allowing shoppers to check out the boats.
Logan residents Kim and Steve Calvert said they came for the races-a friend is competing-but they were excited to take in other Marietta offerings as well.
"We've been here every year for I don't know how long," said Steve, 62.
"We're boat people," added Kim. "We usually bring our boats down for this and for (the Ohio River) Sternwheel Festival."
Both were enthusiastic about the Merchants and Artist Walk, an old favorite, and Steve said he looked forward to hitting up the Harmar Tavern for its famous fried bologna sandwich while in town.
Among the two dozen racers expected over the weekend are a good mix of veterans and rookies.
Michael "Hurricane" Floyd, 49, was raring for another go on the Ohio.
"I've been coming here since 2000. I drove formula three here and formula two. I drove for Hooters in formula two. I've been on the podium a few times. I like this place," said Floyd, in an great mood Friday.
Floyd, who hails from Savannah, Ga., said he anticipates great racing weather this weekend. His boat will likely hit speeds of more than 100 miles per hour, he said.
Marietta has always been a favorite race spot for Floyd and he encourages other racers and spectators to experience the Riverfront Roar.
"If you can't have fun here, you don't know how to have fun," he joked.
On the opposite end, Alyssa Petroni, 26, will be racing on the Ohio River for the first time this weekend.
"I've crewed for my teammate here probably five different years. This is one of my favorite races to come to, so I'm excited to see what it's like to race here," said Petroni, from Kankakee, Ill.
Petroni is hardly a novice though. She has been racing boats since the age of 8, and has nine national podium finishes and a world record in the quarter-mile to her name.
Jessie Heater and Richard Blind, of Pennsboro, W.Va., took in the cacophony of noises and sounds on Front Street as they waited for a table at the Marietta Brewing Company.
"I'm really liking the drum circle," said Heater, 26, of a circle formed in the middle of closed off Front Street. "I'm trying to get up the courage to go play."
An evening of boats, food and live music brought them to Marietta, said Blind, who was enjoying the vibrant music, represented by drummers, guitarist, saxophonists, DJs, and more.
"I just like how the sounds are intermingling. If you can't see it all, you might as well hear it all," he said.
The night was poignant for Scot and Marianne Monaghan, where the Merchants and Artist Walk signified a closing chapter in their long-time Marietta bookstore, Barking Dog Books and Art.
After 10 years running a brick and mortar book store-at times the only one in Marietta-the Monaghans are closing up shop and moving to Cleveland.
"We just want to say 'Thank you. Thank you Mid-Ohio Valley,'" said Scot, surrounded by boxes.
Saturday will be the store's final day, and they will be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., still selling off discounted books and simply visiting with friends and clients they have built over the years.
"It's been great," said Marianne of the final weeks of business. "People have had so many nice things to say."
But customers are also concerned. The store's departure marks the closing of the city's last bookstore.
"One customer walked out and said 'I can't believe it's going to be a college town without a bookstore,'" she recalled.
Even the weather knew better than to mess with spirits Friday evening.
"It's been just beautiful, a perfect night," said artist B.J. McMahan, who was selling her unique custom jewelry pieces on Front Street.