Jacob Crews, 4, gets a power toss down a water slide from his dad, David Crews. (Staff Photo: Jim West)
Albany Fourth of July 2014
Late arrivals delayed the start of the fireworks show Friday night, but otherwise the city of Albany's annual Independence Day festival at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds went off without a hitch.
ALBANY — By most assessments, This year’s Independence Day festival and fireworks display at the Exchange Club fairgrounds was a successful affair.
As prelude to the main event — colorful, percussive skyrockets filling the night sky — there were 17 live bands, inflated bounce houses for the kids, a dunking booth, water slides, fortune telling, games of skill and more. And, of course, there were the food vendors serving hot dogs, hamburgers, funnel cakes — almost anything a heart desired.
The only real hitch, Exchange Club officials say, is that too many festival attendees waited too late to arrive, causing long lines of traffic and a delay in the fireworks presentation of more than half an hour.
“It’s a wonderful safe and family-friendly event,” said Skip Nichols, vice president of the Exchange Club and manager of the annual Exchange Club Fair. “But there needs to be more done to educate the public on when they should arrive.”
Nichols said that even though the city of Albany, sponsor of the annual fireworks presentation, agreed Friday to postpone the display from 9:15 p.m. to around 9:40, many people watched the show from their cars or the median of a highway.
“People didn’t really start showing up until around 8 p.m.,” Nichols said, “and that’s too late. I was told we had cars backed up up on Westover Road all the way to Gordon Avenue and on Oakridge Drive as far as M&M Mars.”
For next year’s festival, Nichols said, he recommends people plan to arrive at least by around 7 p.m.
“We have plenty here for people to do,” said Nichols. “There’s live musical entertainment, food and things for kids. It’s hot this time of year, but there’s shade available, too.”
An early estimate for festival attendance is between 8,000 and 10,000 people, club officials say, with tickets $2 per person or $5 per vehicle. Larry Griffin, president of the Exchange Club Fair Association, said revenues will be shared with the city of Albany according to a specific formula. A portion of the Exchange Club’s portion will used to benefit ongoing projects, including the fight against child abuse, Griffin said.
Griffin said that no fights or altercations occurred during the festival, attributing that to the high level of security provided by police, as well as the “wanding” check for metal weapons conducted at fairgrounds entry points.
The perception of personal safety seemed to contrast with that of the city fireworks shows held at Turtle Park downtown up until last year’s event. The downtown area does not have a contained area and the event was free, so safety might always be an issue, Griffin said.
“We love it out here,” said Dawn Chapman, who came early for the fireworks, “It’s family oriented and I feel safe. They should have it here every year. You can park and not have to worry about walking six blocks to your car.”
Jimmy Wease, 66, and his wife, Geneva, came for the food, the fellowship and — mostly — for the fireworks, they said.
“I had the best hamburger just a while ago,” Jimmy Wease said. “We love the fellowship with people from our church and to just to have a great time celebrating Independence Day.”
Wease, an Army veteran, said he displays the American flag, even on his mailbox.
“We love our country. We’re just as patriotic as we can be,” Jimmy Wease said. “We live on Lily Pond Road and for several years we just took our lawn chairs out to the edge of the road and watched from there. We were close enough to Sherwood Church to see it. All the fireworks shows are different. It just depends on who you fellowship with when you’re out looking at them.”