Thursday, July 19, 2007


(News-Herald, July 19) It’s time for the premiere Venangoland summer festival—the Oil Heritage Festival in Oil City. If nothing else, this is an opportunity for all those people who whine “There’s nothing to do around here” to either put up or shut up.

Squeezing the festival down from a week to four days (with some bonus warm-up events beforehand) was a genius move because it has helped the festival achieve that all-important critical mass. As with Applefest, the festival does not require you to plan or organize to attend and enjoy. Pick a day. Drive to Oil City. Park the car, get out, and spend the rest of the day enjoying whatever you find.

The legendary fearfulness of navigation in Oil City is not an acceptable excuse. There is no place in Venangoland (outside of the new hospital) with more available parking. Once you’re on foot in Oil City, the dreaded maze of one-way streets is not a problem.

No doubt the News Derrick will be providing a complete listing of events; let me highlight some of the treats that I think merit a trip to Oil City this weekend.

There’s a lot of history in Oil City. The National Transit Building tours on Friday afternoon (5:30) are definitely worth a look, but the tours of the Latonia Theater tonight (6-8 pm) are the big history draw for me. I’ve heard that the owners are up to some exciting things in that too-long-neglected building, and it is way cool to have the chance to take a peek.

The raft race on Sunday from Henry’s Bend to Veteran’s Bridge is also mighty appealing. Prior info about the race says that it will be canceled in the event of bad storms or dangerously high water in the Allegheny. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the water level is not going to be a problem, though contestants should probably wear their river shoes for when they have to get out and push.

Fireworks are Sunday night. It’s not a party in Venangoland until Scott Cartwright blows something up (he should probably use that line in advertisements and on t-shirts).

And of course there’s the parade from noon till 2:00 on Saturday. The parade is always large, impressive, and well-run. And the same bizarre street layout that makes Oil City the scourge of little old lady drivers makes it a superb setting for a parade.

Those are the items on my own personal to-do list. But if that’s not your cup o’tea, another impressive feature of the weekend is the sheer variety of events. Skateboarding, weightlifting, a 5 K race, a fishing derby, and a softball tournament provide plenty for folks who want something a little more active than strolling and browsing. But there’s plenty of strolling and browsing, including the return of Pipeline Alley, a cute little side street from the past.

All of it is spread out enough to avoid the massive crammage of Applefest, but still compact enough that you don’t have to walk till you drop.

And the music! The organizers have outdone themselves this year with a steady diet of music that includes hired guns from outside the area and local favorites like Catro (really smooth and cool jazz), the reappearance of the much-beloved Southern Knights, and a Feroz Brothers reunion. Plus the various local groups that have been hired to accompany some of the other events and venues.

There’s something to listen to virtually all day every day. In an age where live music is a too-endangered creature, the Oil Festival Honchos are to be commended for providing a great setting for so many working musicians, and audiences will be fortunate to hear them.

One thing that always tickles me about small town life is our sense of distance. City folks will spend two hours in the car just to go out to eat and never bat an eye. Here in Venangoland, folks don’t like to spend fifteen minutes driving eight miles—it’s just “too far” to go to all that trouble.

Well, this weekend would be a great time to hitch up the horses and make the journey to Oil City. It’s a festival that has much to offer everyone, whether they live in The City or not. It is a credit to Oil City and all the folks who support her.

Not that I’m suggesting you should go because it’s your civic duty or you have an obligation to boost a Venangoland activity. You should go because it’s a chance to get out and have some fun and eat some food and see some folks. But hey—you can stay home if you like. Just don’t start whining about how there’s nothing around here to do.

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