With an arsenal of fireworks at his side, Chris Mele claims he'll be aiming for the record books this Fourth of July weekend. On Monday, the pyrotechnic mastermind will fire off a 16-inch shell -- which he says is the largest ever launched in Ohio -- to bring the Waterfront Festival to a close. "Sixteens aren't used very much, because there aren't a lot of areas that give you that safety buffer," explains Mele, an employee of Pyrotecnico, the Pennsylvania-based manufacturer that has produced the shebang for the past two years. "But being down there at the port, we have a nice, big, open area. It'll be something special."
Along with the colossal, history-making explosive, he'll bring along thousands of smaller shells for the 22-minute show that will illuminate the night sky with the requisite red, white, and blue. And here's another first: Mele will launch rockets with pastel flares -- from sky blues and aquas to fuchsias and limes. "We'll open up with a big barrage, like a mini-finale," says Mele. "Then we'll fire off, at a rapid pace, one shell right after another. There'll be no delays in between shells before we cap it off with the grand finale."
The four-day Uncle Sam tribute will go on rain or shine, with a 4 p.m. launch on Friday at the Old Superior Viaduct. The party continues Saturday afternoon at the Saint Malachi Center (2416 Superior Viaduct; 216-771-3049) with the Old Angle Family Festival, featuring Irish music, carnival games, and food. On Sunday and Monday, members of the Cleveland Rowing Foundation will spend mornings racing each other on the Cuyahoga River, before conducting workshops in the afternoons for aspiring paddlers.
At the same time, Art on Wheels (1284 Riverbed Street; 216-357-3278) will host the first-ever Waterfront Arts Fest, highlighted by a procession of decorated bicycles, strollers, and costumed stilt-walkers left over from last month's Parade the Circle. And a string of brassieres -- autographed by Cavs, Browns, and Indians players to raise money for breast-cancer awareness -- will be unfurled across the river at 1 p.m. Sunday, before they're auctioned off at Shooters on the River (1148 Main Avenue, 216-861-9600), prior to Monday night's fireworks.
In the middle of it all will be Flats Oxbow Association director Tom Newman and assistant director Laura Furjanic, the two-person band behind the Waterfront Fest.
"She's going to dress up as Lady Liberty," says Newman.
"Only if he's in his Uncle Sam outfit," Furjanic shoots back.
Kidding aside, the pair wants this year's fest to wipe the slate clean of the sin-city reputation that plagued the annual Riverfests in the '90s. Back then, partying in the Flats resulted in impromptu stripteases in the streets, cocaine binges in the clubs, and pissing in the river. "Certainly, there was a place for sex, drugs, and rock and roll," says Newman. "But not in the Flats."
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