Amsterdam’s 6th annual Riverfest shines despite showers

Juliana Pannitto, right, Savannah March, center and Jillian Bickford take off on a practice run with Morgan Donovan, not pictured, as part of the X-Squad Water Ski Show Team performing at Riverfest at Riverlink Park in Amsterdam Aug. 6, 2022.
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Juliana Pannitto, right, Savannah March, center and Jillian Bickford take off on a practice run with Morgan Donovan, not pictured, as part of the X-Squad Water Ski Show Team performing at Riverfest at Riverlink Park in Amsterdam Aug. 6, 2022.

AMSTERDAM — Hot and sweaty temperatures and a couple of flash summer showers made it a wet one Saturday at Riverlink Park, but neither the heat nor the precipitation seemed to dampen the spirits of the enthusiastic crowd that turned out for the sixth annual Riverfest in Amsterdam.

Standing next to the docks at Riverlink Park Marina, Mayor Michael Cinquanti said the willingness of the public to come out for events like Riverfest, even despite inclement weather, is proof to him of the eagerness that people have to get the local economy growing again after two long years of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think things are coming back a little bit, and I don’t think we’re going to go into a recession, and I certainly hope we don’t,” Cinquanti said. “This event is important to get people out again, and get them into the habit of going out again.”

This year’s edition of Riverfest featured two performances by the Amsterdam X-Squad Water Ski Show, musical performances by MedRock and Marco J. Johnson, about 70 different venders and a fireworks show, all sponsored by sticker-maker Sticker Mule.

Rob Spagnola, director of the city’s Tourism Marketing and Recreation Department, said the basic purpose of Riverfest is to show off Amsterdam’s waterfront, both for the people who live in the city and for tourists, some of whom may be visiting Riverlink Park for the first time and may not be completely sure how to get there.

“Leading up to the 100 degree temperatures and torrential rain, it’s been great,” Spagnola quipped amid the sounds of the band MedRock playing in the park’s amphitheater as a CSX train roared by. “This is a real important event, because we want people [to attend Riverfest] who’ve never been here before. Because when you come here, you’re amazed. When you walk over the [Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Pedestrian Bridge] and then you pull up to our waterfront, there’s really no place else like it around here.”

Spagnola was describing the southside entrance to the park via the MVGO bridge, but getting to the park from the northside involves a more circuitous route: starting at the Riverfront Center parking lot, followed by a walk through the covered overpass running above Route 5 and the CSX rail road tracks, and then finally down several flights of stairs to the entrance of the park. Several newcomers to the park Saturday afternoon could be seen asking for directions to Riverfest amid the other road work and detours going on in downtown Amsterdam.

“That shows me, and tells us, that there’s still a lot of people who are coming here who’ve never been here — which is a great thing,” Spagnola said. “We’ve always said, that if parking, or getting here, is the worst problem, that means a lot of people are coming, and we like that.”

Riverfest provided an opportunity for the Amsterdam X-Squad Water Ski Show to show off what it can do, as well as the $60,000 “Waterfront Entertainment Destination” project built for the team as part of Amsterdam’s $10 Million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant.

Part of the stated purpose for the $60,000 DRI grant was helping to build renovations at the marina, enabling the non-profit water ski club run by Joseph Serth to relocate from Jumpin’ Jacks Drive-In in Scotia to Riverlink Park in 2019. The funding paid for a new docking system, a shed, boat lifts and other equipment for the team.

Mark Burchardt, a member of the water ski team for the past 14 years, said Riverfest is an important even for the approximately 30-member X-Squad Water Ski Show, because it was at one of the first Riverfest events that the team first performed in Amsterdam, which ultimately led them to apply for and receive the DRI funding.

“This gave us a stable place,” he said. “We have a show here every Wednesday night [from July 6 to Aug. 31], and that gives us the chance to develop our skills for the bigger shows. Originally, [during the early years of the team] we were kind of nomads, a lot of our funding would come from the larger shows we do out west, in Sylvan Beach, [near] Rome, [Oneida County], and Cayuga Lake. That’s how we generate our revenue, but for us it’s great to be able to come to Amsterdam every week on Wednesday to practice and then perform for the locals here at events like Riverfest. The local support has been amazing, a lot of people just come down with their families to watch us practice every week.”

Burchardt said the age-range for members on the X-Squad range from him as the oldest at age 33 to as young a four-years-old, one of the sons of another member. He said most of the team members are teenagers, and currently about six are from Amsterdam. He said joining the team requires $50 for an insurance policy and then $50 in dues for the season.

“We do water ski jumps, barefoot waterskiing, swiveling, ATBs [around the boat tricks], but a lot of what we really do is skier development,” he said. “We work with the kids to develop their skills to just keep going in the sport. We start them out working with [water ski] flags, which is one of our easier acts, and then knee-boarding, so we help them build their skills, and we just keep building.”

Riverfest also served as an opportunity for other businesses in Amsterdam and in the greater Mohawk Valley to grow and build on past successes Saturday.

Nicole Stout, a marketing communications officer at St. Mary’s Healthcare, helped run the hospital’s table at the event. She said Riverfest offered the chance to tell more people about St. Mary’s new Community Pharmacy located on the upper level of the Rao Outpatient Pavilion.

For Andrew Rowles, a farm manager at Wayward Lane Brewing located in the town of Schoharie, Riverfest was a chance to sell some farm-brewed beer, as well as jars of honey produced on the same farm and used in the process of making some of those beers.

“We are farm and a brewery, so we’re growing the unusual fruit, we’re raising bee colonies, we have almost 80 hives on the property,” Rowles said. “[Riverfest] is a good way of getting our brand out there, so that people will come and travel to us, because we’re somewhat of a destination brewery.”

Rowles said his business is dual-licensed both as a New York state farm brewery, a designation earned by producing at least one beer made 100 percent from ingredients produced in New York state, but his business is also licensed to produce many types of beers with ingredients from other countries, usually Germany. One of his recent New York state brewed beers was called “Brunnendorf” in honor of the German name for the settlement, known in English as “Fountain Village”, which would eventually be called the town of Schoharie.

“We rotate our beers so often that you probably won’t see the same beer [more than once per] year, but we will always have at least one New York state beer,” he said.

Danielle Whelly, a Marketing Manager & Wellness Coach at Sticker Mule, said Riverfest offers an opportunity to connect with the local community and to recruit new employees.

“At events we try to bring applications, so that if anybody has any difficulty applying online we always bring them, just to let the community know that we’re hiring, and what’s going on,” she said. “We’re always looking to bring people on. We’ve got a lot of new things.”

Sticker Mule is an e-commerce company that manufactures custom stickers but has also ventured into other businesses like the Combat Mules training gym and a social media platform called Stimulus.

Spagnola said in 2022 the city’s Tourism Marketing and Recreation Department has been getting back on track to reestablishing the momentum it had built prior to the onset of the pandemic in 2020 with strong attendance and participation at its different festival events.

“We expect to continue that right through the fall,” he said. “We have Superhero Night [a cosplay event on the MVGO bridge] where we’ll have superheroes walking around all over the place, set for Aug. 16. Then there’s a little lull, the city pool shuts down, kids go back to school, but then go right into Sept. 10 for Italiafest.”

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