Firebird Festival Burns Bright
Chester County artisans and community members come together to celebrate art, culture and the mythology of the Phoenix.
In what might be Phoenixville's finest display of community, the Seventh Annual Firebird Festival lit up the town Saturday night by burning a three-story high wooden bird in the lot next to the Justice Center on the 300 block of Bridge Street in celebration of the mythology of the Phoenix.
"In the 1970s, many storefronts in downtown Phoenixville had boards over the windows," proclaimed Barry Lee, event emcee. "This community has risen out of the ashes, just as the Phoenix does."
The Firebird Festival was marked by the impressive fire that engulfs the bird, built over several weeks by members of the community, but also included various displays of arts and culture. An Arts Bazaar at the Firebird site showcased local artisans and crafters. Bridge Street merchants got involved with special events based around Phoenix mythology. At the Colonial Theatre, Storytelling Irma and the Firebird Improv Orchestra retold the story of the Phoenix and actresses Deborah and Jenny Stevenson performed a dramatic reading of the children's fantasy novel The Phoenix and the Carpet at the Phoenix Karate Center. Steel City Coffee House, Diving Cat Studio, Wolfgang Books, Sunstone Studios and the Phoenix Village Art Center all hosted community events Saturday evening to get into the spirit.
The main event started with a parade of drummers and dancers marching their handmade Phoenixes down Bridge Street to the main site. Two Fire Masters were selected by raffle—any community member could purchase tickets—minutes before 8pm. Drummers kept the beat while firedancers and troupes in Phoenix costumes danced around the three-story high wooden Phoenix while the Fire Master touched a torch to the structure.
Within minutes (thanks to plenty of lighter fluid), the bird was fully ablaze, sending flames five stories into the air. The crowd, grateful for the heat radiating from the fire, cheered as the bird's "wings" burned and toppled. By 8:20, the highest point of the structure—the beak of the Phoenix, looking triumphantly upward, collapsed, as firemen kept watchful eyes on the blaze. The work of art, representing the camaraderie and spirit of community volunteers, was reduced to a manageable bonfire that burned through the night, acting as a kiln and firing the clay birds designed by community members and placed inside the structure. The celebration continued with music from Mystic Song, featuring the vocals of Lynn Miller—the brainchild behind the original Firebird Festival.
Lee, who is a vocalist and guitarist with the Native American musical group Spirit Wing, has been a part of the Firebird Festival for six of its seven years. "We are so blessed to have such involvement from the community and to have done this for seven years without any injuries," he said. Event organizers look forward to next year's festival as the tradition continues to blossom.
Did You Know?
In Egyptian and Greek mythology, the Phoenix is a sacred firebird that lives for 1,000 years. At the end of its life cycle, the Phoenix builds itself a sacred nest. The nest ignites and the bird burns to ashes. Out of the ashes, a new Phoenix emerges, symbolizing resurrection and revival.
Estimated attendance: 6,500
Towers in the structure: 7 (main body, two upper wings, two lower wings, two talons—one for each year of the festival)
Amount of wood used: 40 pieces 2x10x16'; 20 pieces 2x6x10'; and 20 pieces 2x4x10'—purchased from Tague Lumber. Tague and Phoenix Storage also donated 80 pallets.
Type of wood used: Mostly pine (new this year; in the past, the firebird was mostly oak)
Amount of lighter fluid used: ½ gallon
Manpower involved: 45 volunteers spread out over 5 weekends (past birds have taken 4 weekends)
Number of fireworks inside the structure: 12 (1 in each of the smaller towers and 6 in the head—all left over from the Fourth of July)
Number of clay birds fired inside the Phoenix: 176
Number of raffle tickets sold for a drawing to be Fire Master: 83