Last year, after vandals torched the namesake icon of the Phoenixville Firebird Festival the night before its scheduled burning, the playing surface at Friendship Field was trampled—but the spirit of a community soared.
And as I took my place among the dozens of volunteers who seemingly converged out of nowhere in the rain and muck to build a new structure within hours, I could not help but think that this is what we neighbors of Friendship Field fought for 10 years ago when a developer’s plan for townhouses threatened to take from us a much-needed recreational area in our town. Today, it is a park.
And on that soggy Saturday last December, people from all over the area—besides Phoenixville residents, many from surrounding townships and as far away as Schwenksville and Pottstown—converged on that park in a common cause to send a message to the vandals: You will not stop us. While the participants were from all over, the spirit was classic Phoenixville. People come to Phoenixville, whether it’s on First Fridays or to the Blues Festival or Blobfest or the Firebird Festival, to tap into that kind of spirit. That day was a stellar example of that dynamic. It’s a feeling that we’re part of something bigger than any one of us. Sure, a playing field took a beating, but a spirit soared.
Now some members of Phoenixville Borough Council are talking of not allowing the Firebird Festival this year because of the condition of the field after last year’s event. Bad move.
I don’t object to council requiring some kind of security or bond from the festival organizers, but to send them packing without at least giving them the opportunity to post a security would be shortsighted.
And for council to use the 2014 Firebird Festival as a baseline for the event is a misjudgment. Indeed, 2014 was an aberration. The vandalism, the rain, the army of volunteers—all way off script. I can guarantee you that bird won’t get torched again. The lesson has been learned. Security will be tighter. I live next door to the park. I will aid in that from my perch.
There has been some concern about the condition of the playing field afterward, but the chances of that happening again are slim. Also, the borough has another playing field at Veteran’s Park; send groups who need to use a field there if you have too. No one group owns the field; the community does.
And the Firebird Festival is a true community event. I won’t be able to make the Borough Council meeting on July 14, but I hope advocates of the Firebird Festival come out en masse and state their case.
Full disclosure: I was president of Phoenixville Borough Council in 2013, the first year we allowed the Firebird Festival to perch in Friendship Field. Despite the snow that fell on the 2013 festival and the drenching rains that soaked the field for the 2014 version, I still think that was the right vote to take. Where else are you going to put that? Friendship Field is easy to get to safely, has plenty of parking around it and lots of room to spread out.
It’s what we neighbors of Friendship Field fought for in 2005 when we raised our voices to preserve a vital recreational space in the community. To send the Firebird Festival packing would be a slap in the face to those of us who worked to preserve that wonderful space precisely for events like this.
— Richard Mark Kirkner