Whiskey Rebellion Festival celebrates heritage & character

Chesapeake Sheiks

Chesapeake Sheiks

Every summer the city of Washington, Pa. travels back in time.

Since 2010, the city has celebrated its unique historical heritage with the Whiskey Rebellion Festival. The festival “celebrates the heritage and unique character of the region by focusing on the historical significance of the Whiskey Rebellion, a history that is unique to western Pennsylvania and primarily Washington County.”

According to Lee Stivers, a member of the festival planning committee, the beloved local event never started with the intention of being annual.

Held in conjunction with the city’s bicentennial celebration in 2010, the festival debuted to rave reviews.

“It was so popular and so fun that we knew we just had to do it again,” Stivers said. “Now it’s in its seventh year, and it’s grown every year since.”

This year’s free and family-friendly celebration begins Thursday, July 7 and continues through Sunday, July 10 with events for the whole family held throughout the downtown.

New to the festival this year is the raised community pavilion along Main Street, that’s a permanent structure providing cover for the city’s farmers market and festival.

Festival organizers are thrilled with the addition, which Stivers said provides a comfortable and safe environment for the whole family to take in the nightly musical performances.

Festivities officially get underway on Thursday beginning at 3 p.m. with a farmers market that Stivers anticipate will have “a lot of great stuff,” and the Washington Health Systems Health fair, featuring fun and informative healthy lifestyle presentations.

Musical performances begin at 7 p.m. on the main festival stage with the Washington Symphony Orchestra and the Washington Festival Chorale performing. This marks the Chorale’s first festival performance and features more than 60 voices. The Washington Symphony Orchestra has participated for the past six years and has a repertoire of well-known Americana and patriotic tunes. Both acts will join together for a finale to mark the close of Thursday’s events.

Friday it’s all about the “Blues, Brews and BBQ,” with Stivers noting that musical lineup for the evening features contemporary acts that are well-known and nationally treasured.

Beginning at 4 p.m., festival-goers can admire and shop vendors located along Strawberry Way, enjoy adult libations, featured whiskey drinks and delicious eats from the festival food court.

Blues piano performer Matt Jordan begins the evening of music at 6:30 p.m., with the “legendary” Phil Wiggins and the Chesapeake Sheiks performing at 7:30 p.m. and Jimmy Adler, closes out the evening at 9 p.m. with a selection of tunes coming from his recently released album.

Saturday is dubbed the “Grand Celebration,” with a community parade through the heart of the city’s historic district kicking off a full day of at 10:30 a.m. Marching bands, civic leaders, entertainers and historical re-enactors serve as a prelude to a day of vendor shopping, music, food offerings and 18th-century re-enactments that bring the Whiskey Rebellion story to life.

“We have stuff going on downtown and at our Washington Fort site,” Stivers said. “We take over the town with fun that day. The kids can enjoy pony rides, re-enactors, and a petting zoo.”

Free bus transportation will be offered to take festival-goers between the two sites throughout the day.

Evening activities bring music performances from local and nationally known acts including The Steel City Rovers, The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers, and The Travelin’ McCourys. The music gets underway at 6 p.m. at the new community pavilion with a grand finale of fireworks closing out the day.

“These performers are very highly prized bands and it’s a big deal to have them here in our city for free,” Stivers said. “It’s a great opportunity to enjoy some quality music at no cost.”

The festival’s final day begins at 11 a.m. on Sunday with the 12th Annual Classics on Main Car Show, sponsored by the Covered Bridge Region AACA. Historical activities continue at the Washington County Historical Society’s Frontier Fort in Washington Park, with a final day of demonstrations, displays and an 18th-century fort available for exploring.

“It’s just a really nice ending to our festival,” Stivers said. “There’s something for everybody each day, and it’s a great local festival with a bigger feel to it. It’s a great way to celebrate our historical heritage, with historical elements woven in each day.”

The Travelin' McCourys

The Travelin’ McCourys

Live Entertainment Schedule

Thursday, July 7

Washington Festival Chorale – 7 p.m. – New Community Pavilion – The Washington Festival Chorale will perform on the main Festival stage, kicking off three days of music.

Washington Orchestra Symphony – 8 p.m. – New Community Pavilion – The Washington Symphony Orchestra, a community favorite at the Festival for the past six years, will follow at 8 p.m.

Friday, July 8

Phil Wiggins & the Chesapeake Sheiks – 7:30 p.m. – New Community Pavilion – Headliner Phil Wiggins is a “legendary virtuoso”!

Jimmy Adler – 9 p.m. – New Community Pavilion – Released in late 2015, Jimmy’s latest recording,Grease Alley, is filled with original music performed with a cast of great musicians.

Matt Jordan – 6:30 p.m. – New Community Pavilion – Enthusiastic blues piano player, Matt Jordan, opens the musical line-up.

Saturday Afternoon, July 9

Phil Wiggins, Callán, The Early Mays, Adam Sutch, North Allegheny Fiddlers, Tamsula and Withers, Beau Street Players & Stone Cottage

Saturday Evening, July 9

The Travelin’ McCourys – 8:30 p.m. – New Community Pavilion – The Travelin’ McCourys do not stand still. They are on the road-and online-entertaining audiences with live shows that include some of the best musicians and singers from all genres.

The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers – 7 p.m. – New Community Pavilion – The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers draw freely from old-time, bluegrass, country, jazz, rockabilly and swing styles to create their tight, high-energy string band music.

The Steel City Rovers – 6 p.m. – New Community Pavilion – Hailing from Hamilton, Ontario, the Steel City Rovers call their sound “Celtibilly”-a high energy blend of country, Celtic, folk and roots music.

FMI: whiskeyrebellionfestival.com or facebook.com/WhiskeyRebellionFestival.

Story by Lauren Rearick for Pennsylvania Bridges