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Celebrate America, still wowing crowds after 20 years
The 20th annual Celebrate America, South Whidbey’s day-before-Independence-Day fireworks display, went out with a bang Thursday.
Twenty minutes of booms, sparkles and bombs-a-bursting lit up the cloudy sky over Holmes Harbor and entertained hundreds at Freeland Park. The seven-hour party, all put on by South Whidbey Assembly of God with donations from dozens of people and businesses, saw scores wander through for food, bounce houses, face painting, music and, of course, fireworks.
Two decades after the first July 3 festival kicked off, it was still drawing plenty of folks for the free fun.
“It’s nice,” said Andy Mattern, who was at the park with his wife and daughter. “I don’t have to get up in the morning after the fireworks show.”
Matt Chambers, the pastor at South Whidbey Assembly, said the festival was originally launched the day before Independence Day because most fireworks barges and companies were booked for July 4. Plus, there used to be a discount, but that no longer applies to one of Whidbey Island’s biggest annual gatherings.
“It gives everybody a jump start on the fireworks,” Chambers said from a stage in between one of four acts.
Plenty of on-stage entertainment kept people engaged leading up to the aerial attraction. Heartgraves, a four-piece band of young musicians, performed original melodies. They were followed by the jazz performance of the South Whidbey Blues Combo. Sophia Duccini sang heartfelt tunes backed only by her keyboard.
The showstopper was entertainer Marcus Raymond, a Whidbey Island resident who juggles, swallows burning torches and tells lots and lots of jokes. He had the entire seated area around the stage full and enthralled as he juggled cups, hats and swallowed a lit torch, intermingled with crowd-engaging humor.
“Sir, this isn’t television,” he said to one man during the performance when he asked people to hold up their hands in preparation of clapping. “I can see if you don’t do it.”
Earlier in the day, there seemed to be fewer people than in years past who had staked out a spot on the hill, beach or lawns. But as the night wore on, more arrived to fill every decent viewpoint.
There were enough spectators, many of whom were children with their parents, siblings, friends, or guardians, to keep the bounce houses filled and the face paint line long.
“Since 3:40 [p.m.], we have not stopped,” said Brenda Chittim, the supervisor of the 12 face paint volunteers. “It kept at least five people busy.”
Marco’s Grill, one of a handful of dining tents set up - far fewer than last year - felt the rush most of the night. Grilling tandem Mark and Nathan Brinkman, father and son, kept the burgers flipping and hot dogs rotating on the grill. Mark Brinkman estimated they would go through most of their 480 burgers and 280 hot dogs by the night’s end.
“It’s a lot busier than last year,” he said.
The night concluded with a flurry of fireworks, followed by a raucous applause from spectators across Holmes Harbor.