River Fest in full swing

Robert Inglis/The Daily Item Crowds walk along Market Street in Sunbury on Friday afternoon as they check out the Sunbury River Festival.

Blending retro entertainment with state-of-the-art technology might be tough to pull off for some people, but not when you’ve been engaging crowds for 30 years.

Sunbury River Festival 2019’s theme is “Rewind: Celebrating 30 Years of Sunbury River Festival.” It kicks off at 7 p.m. tonight with The Valley’s Got Talent competition at the Shikellamy High School. Festival events run Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Market Street.

From the first VGT nine years ago to today, the event has grown in competitiveness and popularity.

“For the very first one we had (at the Elks Lodge) we thought only 100 people would show up,” said Slade Shreck, Festival co-chair. “We had about 350.”

Since then they’ve moved the event to the Shikellamy High School auditorium, which fills with 900 people to watch the 16 finalists chosen from a field of 40 to 45 contestants.

“That just says something about the talent in the Susquehanna Valley,” Shreck said. “The talent we have is amazing. Every year I hear from people how they look forward to this every year.”

Judges will be 2016 Moose International Karaoke Contest champion Cassie Paul; Ellen Boyer, director of the Shikellamy High School Theatre Department; Tom Webb, owner of Spyglass Ridge Winery in Sunbury and fulltime worker at Service Electric Cablevision in Danville (sponsoring VGT); and Daily Item reporter Francis Scarcella. A total of $700 in cash prizes will be awarded to the top three performers.

Friday and Saturday events manage to take on a new look with some old-time fun … “Back to the Future,” anyone?

“We have so much stuff this year that is different,” Shreck said. “Our Friday is all geared for family. We have a lot of free things for the kids.”

Try a water balloon game, Glow Zone and a big-screen showing of “Back to the Future II.”

“People seem to be liking the movies on the river from SRI (Sunbury’s Revitalization, Inc.). They’ve been very well attended,” said Laurie Johnson, festival co-chair. “I think people like that it’s more family-oriented. This year we have a lot of family-oriented things.”

Shikellamy cheerleaders will host the Glow Zone in Cameron Park with glow-in-the-dark items like sticks and face paint. 

Boy Scouts of America will teach baiting and casting techniques at the river. 

Hands-on fun and learning will combine in three museums: the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania’s traveling exhibit, VanGo! Museum on Wheels’ special FX interactive exhibits and the Lewisburg Children’s Museum.

Animal lovers will enjoy demonstrations by both Pennsylvania Amphibian and Reptile Survey (PARS) and Clyde Peeling Reptiland.

“The kids love those animals,” Johnson said.

“Clyde Peeling did a fabulous job last year. That’s why we’re having him back,” Shreck said.

Perhaps nothing takes us back to the ’80s like Nintendo games. Thanks to Majik Rent To Own, of Sunbury, Nintendo will be available at the River Festival.

“They’re bringing in big screen TVs with Nintendo games, and you’ll be able to go in and play Nintendo games from, like, 30 years ago,” Shreck said. “For free.”

New this year will be live chainsaw carving with Gregg Peachy as well as an opportunity to try your hand at axe throwing.

“Those two things should be really fun,” Johnson said.

The Degenstein Library will host the Susquehanna Art Society’s Annual Judged Art Show both days. Karen Gronsky’s School of Dance will perform onstage Friday evening, and Saturday will offer Heath’s Gym Dance Crew and Gym Starz.

While the Car Cruise In always draws a big crowd, the Nationwide 88 Show Car and Racing Simulator will add to the fun vibe.

“You have to kind of keep up with new and different things,” Johnson said. “The car simulator is wonderful. The kids love that to death.”

Depending on weather, the Cruise In could attract around 100 cars, Shreck said. As far as unusual vehicles, it’s anyone’s guess.

“You never know until the day of,” he said.

Musical entertainment has been a mainstay of the Sunbury River Festival, with some performers returning year after year.

“The Sunbury City Band and Eric Rachau, they play every year for us,” Shreck said.

Also filling the air with music this year are Kira & Jake, Brandon Barnhardt, According to Dad, Destiny Lopez & Crew, Earthbound Misfits and the Attinger Brothers.

By 8 p.m. Saturday, it will be time to “Rewind to ’89 with 94KX” — an outdoor ’80’s party for all ages. Music videos will play on the big screens while 94KX spins hits from the ’80s. Adult beverages will be available. People who dress in ’80s clothing can win prizes.

“That’s going to be phenomenal,” Shreck said. “Saturday night is going to be a big night.”

It all wraps up with a bang when fireworks fill Sunbury’s sky.

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