Ours is a city built on tradition. Tradition is why our all sports teams wear black and gold, why our weddings have cookie tables, and why we eat Primanti’s sandwiches, chipped ham, and salads topped with french fries.
Tradition is also at the heart of one of this city’s grand, annual summer festivals: the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta, a mainstay that dates to 1978. It’s a river(s) party at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio — around which hundreds of thousands will take in speedboat races, live music, fireworks, and family-friendly activities while chowing down on ol’ fashioned carnival-style food.
“[The Regatta] definitely has a lot of history and tradition within the region,” says Derek Weber, the event’s director of events and the president of LionHeart Event Group, which produces the Regatta.
The father of the Gateway Clipper Fleet founded the Regatta, and a 1978 story in the Pittsburgh Press wrote of John E. Connelly’s creation: “Let’s hope that this year’s is only the first of many.” It was, and the 41st Regatta will feel familiar while also looking somewhat new.
Being back in August feels right to organizers. In 2016, the Regatta broke away from being part of Pittsburgh’s Fourth of July celebration and returned to the month with which it was associated by most Pittsburghers.
Limited to one weekend in its current format, the Regatta features live music at the stage in Point State Park. A 1990s-themed night is set for Friday, with local acts hitting the stage Saturday, and country fans finding their music fix Sunday. The main headliners are pop rock band Sugar Ray, whose heyday was in the late ’90s, and country singer Randy Houser, whose biggest days are probably ahead of him.
“We like to mix up the genre between the days so it’s not the same every single day,” Weber says. “... [‘90s night] has been very popular; we’ve got a ton of positive feedback about doing that. We think Sugar Ray is gonna do a great job.”
This year’s Regatta will also feature three different water sports championships: the mainstay Formula 1 Powerboat Championship, the USA Freestyle Jet Ski Championships, and the Pittsburgh Paddlesports Championships. There’s also the Anything That Floats Race, a favorite of fans in which participants race in, well, anything that floats. (That one’s kind of obvious.)
Notably absent this year is the Red Bull Flugtag, the aerial version of Anything That Floats in which competitors create and (attempt to) fly homemade machines. Red Bull doesn’t take the event to the same city in consecutive years; organizers are negotiating for a Flugtag return at a future Regatta.
And even as the summer reaches its peak and the calendar of events gets even more jam-packed — Father John Misty, the Smashing Pumpkins, Three Days Grace, and, of course, the Clarks are all coming to town this weekend, too — the Regatta remains, by far, the biggest attraction on offer.
Why wouldn’t it? Projections call for up to 800,000 people to head Downtown for the three days. What the Steelers are to Latrobe, the Regatta is to Pittsburgh in August: a beloved summertime tradition that’s not going to change anytime soon.
EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta
Begins noon, Fri., Aug. 3 and continues through Sun., Aug. 5. Full event schedule available online. Various locations, Downtown. Free. yougottaregatta.org