Showers and cooler-than-normal temperatures greeted those who attended the city of Albany’s annual Independence Day celebration, which was moved from the downtown area to the Exchange Club Fairgrounds on South Westover Road. Bands such as Money, shown performing, entertained the crowd as umbrellas were as prevalent as American flags. (July 4, 2013)
ALBANY -- Just like every other year, the Fourth of July came in with a bang. Only this time, the city fireworks celebration was set for the Exchange Club fairgrounds -- and the weather was anything but fair.
With the event stretching from 3 p.m. until a "near-midnight" conclusion, attendees were free to purchase Independence Day fare -- funnel cakes po boys, barbecue, pizza, pork skins, wings and burgers. Visitors to the event could even psychic readings if they paid a small entrance fee and could tolerate the rain.
"The city of Albany had a Fourth of July festival for a lot of years," said Suzanne Davis, director of Albany Recreation and Parks, the Civic Center and Auditorium. "We've had some security issues for some of the recent events, so we're thinking that having it in a central location with greater security and charging a small fee will solve those concerns."
While the city's festival has typically been held in or near downtown, Davis said free bus service was provided from downtown to the new location "every hour" Thursday.
Attendance was sparse in the afternoon. Still, there were plenty of community and arts vendors, 12 live musical groups on alternating stages, plus a 25-foot American flag provided by American Legion Post 30, flying high from an apparatus of the Albany Fire Department. There was even a local wrestling event planned at the hog barn.
"I'm a 'pretty-boy' wrestler," Chandler Dabbs said, referring to his wholesome, good-boy image. "I make a little money doing it."
Dabbs, an Albany resident who performs under the name Dab Savage, travels the Southeast and promotes a local downtown program called "Showtime Wrestling." Some of the shows appear at the State Theater on Pine Avenue, Dabbs said.
The event was a new one for the Exchange Club, whose best known use of the grounds is its annual fall fair.
"Over the many years the Exchange Club has been in existence, we've never done anything on the Fourth," said Skip Nichols, grounds manager for the Exchange Club of Albany. "We didn't want to go into competition, but we always wanted to be involved with fireworks because Exchange is about patriotism and Americanism. We're celebrating the birthday of the United States."
According to Nichols, when the city began to explore a change of venue for the festival, officials called the Exchange club with the idea of renting the fairgrounds for the event.
"We told them we were more interested in being a partner with them," Nichols said. "We're hoping this will be a win-win situation for us -- with us raising money for the different organizations we give to, and for them to utilize facilities that are more crowd-friendly and easier to control."
Late afternoon on Thursday, Nichols was optimistic the crowd would come in force once the day grew darker and the time for fireworks approached.
"There's going be some showers every once in a while, but there are plenty of places for shelter," Nichols said. "A lot of folks don't even want to do that. They just want to stand out there and get wet. Most of these fireworks folks and concert folks will endure the weather if it means having a good time."
Davis seemed to share Nichols' positive attitude, even hoping for a chance to show a post-fireworks outdoor movie, "Here Comes the Boom," with Kevin James and Henry Winkler on a special 25-foot inflatable screen.
"I only need a small brief break in the weather to get the fireworks going," Davis said. "The only thing tentative is the movie. It depends more on the weather, since it's fully electronic."
Davis said that if the movie were canceled, the city would show it later in the summer as a part of a series.