By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — Music, dance, games, face-painting and food were among a smorgasbord of fair-like attractions in Neahwa Park on Friday, the first of two days to celebrate the Fourth of July.
“I’ve had a blast,” said Heather Tinder of Oneonta, who was with a group that included about 25 family members and friends. The parade downtown was good, said Tinder, who liked last year’s fireworks in Oneonta and returned Friday for another show.
The Hometown Fourth Festival fireworks started as scheduled at about 9:20 p.m., illuminating the sky and creating a rat-a-tat-tat show for crowds gathered in the park. The day’s festivities, organized by First Night Oneonta and sponsored by many businesses and community members, started with a Main Street parade and were to conclude with some post-fireworks music and other activities.
By 7:30 p.m., as the sun was setting, police and emergency crews reported no problems.
“It’s been a wonderful event,” Patrick Pidgeon, chief of the Oneonta Fire Department, said.
Carol Mandigo, chairwoman of the First Night Oneonta board, said last year an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people had passed through Neahwa Park during the Fourth of July festivities. This year attendance seemed to be up, according to early reports of the day’s activities, she said.
The weather was chillier and windier than expected, but people didn’t seem to mind, Mandigo said. Overall, Mandigo said, she was “absolutely thrilled” with the turnout and results of the festival by mid-evening.
The crowds were spread throughout the parks main sections near Damaschke Field, where the Oneonta Outlaws played two free games. Families found spots for picnics, and groups of teenagers strolled among the activities. Musicians drew audiences to sit in chairs set up before the main stage.
About 25 students from Elite Dance Academy participated in the parade on Main Street and at 2 p.m. performance in the park, said Shannah Kane, an owner, choreographer and instructor with the business along with Erin O’Brien.
The academy was participating in the Fourth activities for the third year, Kane said while at an information and sales booth in the park. The event is an opportunity to entertain the community with dance, she said, and introduce some students to options for classes.
The variety of activities, performances by different groups and the participation and communications with people generated a great atmosphere Friday, Kane said, and the weather was favorable.
“It’s been a really nice day,” she said.
Several others agreed that the cooler weather, which registered in the 60s under mostly cloudy skies with sometimes a brisk breeze, was pleasant.
Vendors sold barbecued chicken and pork, fried dough, popcorn, candy and soft drinks. By night-time, children’s faces in the crowd reflected the handiwork of artists working in several face-painting booths.
A main stage featured several musical groups, including Drumquest, which encouraged listeners to participate by beating drums.
Melissa Amerson of Laurens said her daughters, Stella, 4, and Piper, 2, “loved” beating the drums and experiencing the inflatable bounce-house activities for the first time. By supper time, she said she, her husband, Greg, and their daughters “were trying to hold out until the fireworks.”
Jeff Aaronson, a 1995 Oneonta High School graduate visiting from his home in Rochester, was playing with his son, Tyler, 6, early Friday night.
“It’s been great,” he said about the festival. Tyler, he said, has talked about being afraid of the fireworks but then would become wrapped up in watching the show.
Tyler said he liked the carnival activities and food.
“Cotton candy — it’s the best,” Tyler said.
Sixteen police officers were patrolling in the park by foot or on bicycles, said Lt. Douglas Brenner said.
The Oneonta Fire Department had six crew members in the park ready to assist at the emergency medical site at the skate house, Pidgeon said. But by 7:30 p.m. only a few bandages had been provided to meet minor needs, he said.
During the noon-time parade that kicked off festivities, dance students, skateboarders, politicians, and representatives from community organizations drew applause from spectators.
Rich Murphy, former vice chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, served as grand marshal for the parade, which also featured police and emergency vehicles, plus antiques and larger-than life puppets.
Author and radio announcer Chuck D’Imperio introduced the units and cried out, “Happy Fourth of July, everybody.”
The festival continues Saturday in Neahwa Park with a battle of the bands, skateboard competitions, games, including community volleyball, and other activities.