Fireworks are seen in the downtown Albany 2012 Independence Day at Ray Charles Plaza. Officials estimated 20,000 people came downtown for the fireworks event. The finale of the show was marred by an outbreak of fights in the Turtle Park area.
ALBANY, Ga. -
From every corner in Southwest Georgia, salutes to America's 236th birthday were conducted with the familiar sights and sounds.
Albany was no exception.
The Independence Day extravaganza for the Good Life City was conducted Wednesday evening along Front Street near the Albany Civic Center -- and included vendors selling souvenirs, funnel cakes and even providing music.
Among the booths included one from the Voter Education Registration Project, an organization that found a celebration of freedom the perfect opportunity to promote its cause.
"(The Fourth of July) means a lot to me," said Nicole Crawford, coordinator of the project. "It's a day that I'm proud to be an American.
"Independence comes by decision-making, so those out here registering to vote can become true Americans."
By 7 p.m., the parking spaces along Pine Avenue and West Broad Avenue were already beginning to fill up as was the parking lot at the Civic Center. Dancing demonstrations could be seen from the Ray Charles Plaza, and there was also an Albany Fire Department truck on Front Street with an American flag hoisted up on its ladder.
Kristin Caso, special events coordinator for Albany Recreation and Parks, was among those handing out flags and fans to the patrons coming out to the event.
Caso said that approximately 20,000 people were expected to come out on Wednesday, roughly matching the attendance from the previous year.
"We are really pleased with the turnout. People are coming out in waves," Caso said at the celebration. "We have had a lot of fun."
Recreation and Parks had been working since 6 a.m. coordinating with vendors for the celebration, which included participation from various entities from within the city.
"This really is a city of Albany event," Caso said. "This takes all of us coming together.
"This is a great way for bringing everyone together. This is a day that politics does not matter."
Festivities officially kicked off with an Albany Panthers parade that began from Pine Avenue and North Washington Street at 5 p.m. Throughout the day, people downtown were able to purchase special joint discounted tickets to both the Thronateeska Heritage Center and the Flint RiverQuarium at the venues or at the Albany Welcome Center.
The Welcome Center also rented out bikes at a discounted rate to patrons.
The big event was the fireworks show at 9:30 p.m. based from behind the Civic Center. The pyrotechnics show, conducted by Dangerous Entertainment, was set to a musical medley of classic and contemporary songs as well as patriotic favorites -- including Ray Charles' rendition of "America the Beautiful."
Among those coming out for the fireworks included Samantha Poole, who recently moved to the area with her husband and son.
Her son even got a chance to sit in the driver's seat of the fire truck for a few minutes.
"We came here to see what the day was all about," she said. "(The Fourth of July is important) because it is a chance to celebrate our independence and (the privilege of) celebrating in public without being told what to do or what to say."
While that was ongoing, Summer Bash took place at The State Theatre on Pine Avenue for some of the city's younger residents who preferred an inside venue. The event, hosted by Swisha Man Slim and DJ Shock on the 1S&2S, went on from 8 p.m. until midnight.
Unfortunately, the main event downtown was not without its safety concerns.
According to city officials, a series of fights occurred in Turtle Grove Park. The fights delayed the firing of the fireworks' grand finale. Officials organizing the event had the crowd dispersed at the park, as they were concerned that the sounds from the fireworks may mask possible gunshots. The park was cleared and traffic escorted out. This led to confusion downtown as thousands of people tried to leave at once although police presence was heavy in the area. There were no confirmed gunshots and police cleared the area.
--J.D. Sumner contributed to this story.