On Friday, Oct. 26, Downtown Riverside hosted an impressive array of local entertainment, family-friendly scares and fresh kettle corn during its annual Ghost Walk. Presented by California Riverside Ballet in conjunction with local high schools and theatre groups, the Ghost Walk is a storytelling adventure through some of Riverside’s oldest and most historic buildings.
When I arrived at the event, I was greeted with a section of booths within Main Street Mall. The main venue extended from Coffee Bean to the ArtsBlock and was filled with a midway carnival games arranged around a small stage. Speakers blasted Latin Folklorico music as Grupo Mayo, a dance group based in Riverside, stepped through a colorful and well-choreographed performance. An enthralled audience of children and their parents gathered around Grupo Mayo, while other children—dressed as witches, faeries, and I saw at least one Captain America—played carnival games and chowed down on sweet-smelling kettle corn.
The biggest part of the event took place across the street. Led by volunteers costumed in elegant Victorian suits and ghostly face paint, people gathered into reasonably-sized lines depending on which Ghost Walk they wanted to attend. Tickets cost $15, which seemed a little steep, but proceeds benefitted the efforts of California Riverside Ballet. In any case, the walks were split into different themes and levels of scares; volunteers were available to direct families towards the kid-friendly tours, which ensured scares without any lasting emotional trauma. For the more adventurous folk, two tours, “Dark Dreams” and “Spell Bound Night,” promised gripping stories and bigger frights.
Leading the tours were performers from various theatre groups and high school drama departments, including Poly High School Theater Department, the WolfPack Players and the Ramona Theater Masquers. Of course, these were not regular walking tours; they were closer to live performances. For example, the Dark Dreams tour—which a helpful volunteer assured me was “fun, but still pretty scary”—began with “Hide and Don’t Seek,” a story written by Anna Ludvig, Ashleigh Loughner, Helen Yoshikawa and Akio Yoshikawa. It took place at the Riverside Police Department, which is frightening at any time of day, and was told by spirited drama students from J.W. North High School.
For attendees who did not want to spend $15 on a walking tour, the event hosted a series of exceptional performances from local talent. Patrick McKeone, Grupo Mayo and the RCC Bass Quintet each held the stage for a 45-minute performance, but local gypsy cabaret band Mad Marionettes stole the show.
The Mad Marionettes is a band from Riverside whose music sounds like a frenzied run through a strange, but wonderful, carnival. Their songs feature the memorable sounds of instruments like an upright bass, accordion, toy piano and cajón, and their vocalist’s lingering melodies created a hauntingly beautiful set of songs that melded perfectly with the evening’s Halloween theme. Their set included slow waltzes and fast-paced beats, and they drew a large audience, lots of dancing and plenty of applause.
Overall, Ghost Walk Riverside was a big success. If you want to experience a tour for yourself, keep an eye out; the event occurs late October each year.