Crowds brave snow and ice at Firebird Fest 2013

The phoenix burns at Firebird Fest 2013 on Dec. 14. Photo by Virginia Lindak
The Firebird Dancers entertain the crowds by dancing in front of the phoenix as it burns at Firebird Fest 2013 on Dec. 14. Photo by Virginia Lindak

Amid the sleet and snow last Saturday night, Phoenixville celebrated its 10th annual Firebird Festival in its new location Friendship Field.

Thousands of loyal festival supporters endured the elements for a spectacular sight: the burning of the giant wooden phoenix statue, covered in snow.

The Firebird Festival is held each December as a way to acknowledge the rebirth of the town in recent years, and also to welcome the approaching winter solstice. This year was especially celebratory, as it was the festival’s 10th year, and the event had almost been cancelled due to locations issues.

Event organizer Henrik Stubbe Teglbjaerg said despite the challenges that faced the festival organizers and participants, the evening was a success.

“I thought it went really well. The snow added a wonderful element, there was a great spirit of ‘go with it’ and the burn went incredibly. It was a challenging year, then because it was challenging, we endured, and made it happen. That gives a good feeling, yes, that in spite of (obstacles) we endured and that feels really good,” said Teglbjaerg.

Friendship Field was a winter wonderland, as thousands stomped their way through the snow and gathered around bonfires set up near the phoenix sculpture to stay warm. Several vendors had set up tents selling their art and handmade wares, along with food trailers selling refreshments for the public to enjoy.

Keeping with tradition, the Firebird parade, which included the Firebird dancers and musicians, started on Bridge Street at the Colonial Theatre and made its way to the phoenix statue. Drums played and the crowd enthusiastically cheered, as the torch was raised to light the phoenix.

Schwenksville resident Rochelle Nordmann was one of the Firebird Dancers in the parade this year. She first got involved with the festival last year, through friends who live in Phoenixville. Nordmann said preparation of masks and costumes usually takes a couple of weeks.

“Everybody comes together and does lots of creative things, there’s a great creative energy,” she said. “If you want to get involved next year, there are workshops. Anybody can make a mask, anybody can make wings, anybody can be a dancer.”

Mask making classes took place at the Phoenixville Art Center and were headed by leader of the Firebird Dancers, Lara Vracarich.

“I did public classes for them, and then we did wing making classes too,” she said. “I’ve organized it for six years. It’s amazing how different they all turn out. (The festival) is so healing and transformational and it brings the community together. It allows people to express their creativity and feel joy, and feel the intensity of life. It’s such a joy, it really is.”

The idea for Firebird Festival originated with local artist Lynn Miller, who was involved with the Firebird Orchestra and storytelling, which took place before the parade at the Colonial Theatre.

“The story of the phoenix is told, because the phoenix is what this is all about,” said Miller. “It’s a very powerful myth. Phoenixville was named after this very powerful myth.”

Miller said her original intention with creating Firebird Festival was to bring business to local stores in town, and to help the arts scene flourish.

“I looked at the whole town as an art venue,” said Miller, who was in attendance for the burning of the phoenix after the parade. “I thought it was really special. We were outside in the elements, that was part of what the original intent was, to have people come outside in the winter. I never anticipated it would become as large as it did. The first year we had about 750 people and I was so thrilled.”

Cub Scout Pack 119 of Phoenixville, made up of children from Barkley Elementary, did much to support the festival this year. During the event, the pack held a fundraiser by selling hot chocolate and donated home baked goods from Cub Scout parents and friends. The pack also manned the Firebird donation booth and helped prepare the festival grounds leading up to the festival, and along with clean up when the festival was over.

Ralph Cockerham, a Cub Scout leader, said the pack was happy to help.

“We do it to help the community and serve the community,” remarked Cockerham. “We enjoy coming out. Pack 119 was honored to be an active participant in the success of Firebird Festival. I am sure that the boys got some really good life lessons about helping others and the benefits of doing so.”

Cockerham said he thought event organizers Teglbjaerg and Bob Brown did an awesome job with executing their plan.