Imagine a large crowd cheering on two brightly-colored boats that resemble dragons. The hand-carved dragon boats from Taiwan easily cut through the waters of the Fox River as 18 paddlers in each boat work in unison to the beat of the drummer.
The team's cooperative effort in dragon boat racing leads up to one final moment: when the flagger climbs out onto the head of the dragon and grasps the flag from a pole to signify their completion of the course.
If you goWhat: 31st annual city of St. Charles RiverFest
When: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 8-9; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, June 9
Where: Seven venues on the River Walk and throughout downtown St. Charles, including Pottawatomie Park, Lincoln Park, First Avenue and West Main Street on Plaza Green, and Main Street and Route 31
Details: Visit www.prideofthefox.com or call (630) 296-7683
The dragon boat races are iconic to the newly-named City of St. Charles RiverFest, now in its 31st year. But Friday through Sunday, June 7 through 9, the festival's name change won't be the only new feature this year.
Julie M. Farris, executive director for RiverFest, said in the past, the name of the festival had changed a couple of times, and it got promotionally confusing. Since the city of St. Charles agreed to sponsor the festival, they named the RiverFest after the city. To maintain the brand of the festival, Farris gave the former name of the festival, Pride of the Fox, to her nonprofit that organizes the event.
Newly branded, this year's free community festival takes place at seven different venues throughout downtown St. Charles and along the River Walk.
Organizers paired the new name with new events: dragon cookie decorating, a bring-your-own hula hoop contest, an ice cream eating contest and a military vehicle display from the Cantigny Park First Division Museum -- ideas that were developed by the community, for the community, said Farris.
"We believe our community is an incredible place to live, and we are blessed to have so many features in our town. We want to give back using our skills -- and this festival allows us to do that," she said.
Karen Muehlfelt, a volunteer on the Public Relations committee, agreed and said, "There are lots of free events, and it's important that people can come and enjoy and not spend an arm and a leg."
Other free additions to the festival, including the students-only Battle of the Bands, the Fox Hunt and the SWAT demonstration by the Kane County SWAT team, will also be on the calendar, said Farris.
This year's SWAT demonstration will be just as exciting as the two past demonstrations, said Farris, but Friday's demonstration at 5:40 p.m. on the River Walk will be "explosive."
The winner of this year's Fox Hunt can look forward to an exciting prize this year: a $1,000 custom Fox necklace from JP Jewelers.
Moviegoers can enjoy the Friday night feature "Despicable Me" playing in Lincoln Park at 8 p.m.
Even with many new activities, Farris assured that festival organizers are keeping many of the traditional favorites, including dragon boat racing, the main stage and the sand sculpture.
Dragon boat racing coordinator Paul Wasylyszyn said he enjoys exposing his community to such a unique, team-building sport.
"The cool thing is that you don't need to have any experience -- we train and practice the week leading up to the races," he said.
The Saturday and Sunday races will run in tandem with the dragon cookie decorating from 1 to 4 p.m. in Pottawatomie Park.
They won't be the only iconic feature offering entertainment throughout the weekend.
The Arcada Live Main Stage will be featuring both local and regional artists all three days. Last year's Battle of the Bands winner, The Skelters, will kick off on the main stage Friday night, and Mike and Joe will continue the lineup Saturday night.
Ron Onesti, owner of the Arcada Theatre, is sponsoring this year's main stage for the first time, and he said he hopes to offer attendees a party atmosphere with a variety of talented acts at its new location on First Street at Plaza Green.
As for the well-known sand sculpture, attendees can watch award-winning artist Ted Siebert transform a pile of sand into a work of art and ask him questions. The 40-ton sculpture will be at a new location on the corner of Main Street and Route 31.
The festival has grown over the years, but still stays true to its concept as a hometown festival because it's run by locals and showcases their talents, said Vanessa Bell-LaSota, a longtime volunteer on the Steering Committee.
"Often times, these events are canned and you're hard-pressed to find somebody from the town at the event -- we market to the Chicagoland area to keep it local," she said.
For a complete schedule of events, visit www.prideofthefox.com.