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Experience This: Have a ball at Boom Days

When the ice boom is lifted, it's spring. Even if it doesn't feel like it, we have, at last, the cold, hard proof.

So has it been since 1964, when the boom was installed. The boom, in case you're new here, is a series of 15- to 30-foot long steel pontoons stretching 8,800 feet across Lake Erie at the mouth of the Niagara River. Its job is to keep ice from floating from the lake into the river and clogging the water intakes.

The lifting of the ice boom calls for a party, and so Boom Days was conceived 20 years ago by Rick Smith, Paul Dyster and like-minded friends as a unique celebration of spring.

More than once over the years, bad weather lowered the boom on Boom Days. That's why, this year, it has moved indoors, to various venues throughout the Old First Ward. From now on, said organizer Tod Kniazuk, it will be tied to the Saturday after Easter.

Just as it is hard to predict the weather, it is also hard to predict when the boom will actually be lifted. The blessed event is penciled in every year for April 1, but the boom can remain after that date if need be, and this is one of those years. Still in place, still doing its job, it might be lifted to coincide with Boom Days. Then again, it might not.

The important thing is, the party will go on.

The experience

Boom Days, despite that name, is a one-day festival. It begins at 1 p.m. Saturday, with three hours of laid-back, family friendly fun.

The Undergrounds Coffee House & Roastery (580 South Park Ave.) will welcome a special guest, the Buffalo & Erie County Library on Wheels. Folks can relax, drink coffee, borrow books, and apply for library cards. Waterfront Memories & More Museum (41 Hamburg St.) will be open for visitors from 1 to 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, the Old First Ward Community Center (62 Republic St.) is also a hive of activity. Thanks to the Buffalo Zoomobile, you can pet animals, and thanks to the Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Preserve, you can dig for fossils. Young Audiences of Western New York are leading hour-long workshops on topics like collages and African drumming.

At 4 p.m. it is time for the Rolling of the Boom Ball.

The ball is about five feet wide, designed to look like a component of the ice boom. The Buffalo Brass Machine, a New Orleans-style brass band, will lead the way as the revelers, forming a parade, roll the ball from the Old First Ward Community Center down the street to Mutual Riverfront Park -- where, significantly, the boom is stored when it is not in use. If weather permits, the century-old Edward M. Cotter fire boat will also participate, saluting with its water guns.

(Harry Scull Jr./News file photo)

For families with children, just this much of the festival makes for a full day, Kniazuk pointed out. But the taverns that take over after the parade are also family friendly, in the time-honored spirit of old taverns. At the Barrel Factory (65 Vandalia St.) and at Gene McCarthy’s (73 Hamburg St.), you can hear live music, including blues and Americana.

The Barrel Factory will have live music. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Finally come the fireworks, visible from wherever you are at the festival.

"At 8:30 p.m., the music stops, and everyone goes outside and watches the fireworks," Kniazuk explained. "Then they go back in."

If only spring in Buffalo were always that simple.

The essentials

Boom Days

When: Begins 1 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Buffalo's Old First Ward.

Cost: Free

Tip: All venues are in close proximity, which makes things easy for first-timers. Organizer Tod Kniazuk suggests: "You can stop at Underground's, make your way down Hamburg Street, and right there, literally within steps of each other, are Gene McCarthy's, the Old First Ward Community Center, Mutual Riverfront Park, the Barrel Factory. Everything is centered around one little area." The full list of events, times, and locations can be found at facebook.com/BoomDaysBuffalo.

The actual ice boom from late February. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

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