Thousands turn out for concert, fireworks
By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS — Village Park on Saturday night was a snapshot of America.
As the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra performed patriotic songs and American standards, families gathered on blankets and in lawn chairs to enjoy one another and celebrate freedom.
More than 15,000 turned out for the free concert, according to Parks and Recreation Director Gary Mills.
When space was full on the park lawn, they set up their chairs in the parking lot.
From where Virginia and Joey Clemmer sat, they couldn’t see the stage.
That was no problem, Virginia said.
“We can hear the music. We can see the fireworks,” she said.
This was the Clemmers’ third year coming to the show. They live in Concord.
“I like the patriotic music,” Joey said. “It’s very appropriate to celebrate the birth of our nation.”
They came from all over the state, and around the nation.
“We’re here celebrating the Fourth as a family,” said Bonnie Campbell, of St. Louis, Mo.
She came to Kannapolis to see her daughter, Nikki, granddaughter Madi and other relatives.
“It’s family and fireworks,” Nikki said as they sat on blankets at the edge of the park.
Jeremy Van Tress drove from Fayetteville, home of Fort Bragg. He said he serves in the Army, but took time to come to Kannapolis to visit friends.
Village Park was filled to capacity. Lines for concessions and restrooms stretched around the building in opposite directions, nearly meeting in the middle.
As he stood in the concession line, Van Tress said he didn’t expect to wait so long to get a soda, but he was smiling.
This was his first visit to Village Park. “I’ve been here about two hours,” he said. “It’s great.”
Throughout the evening, as conductor Albert-George Schram led the symphony through its program, the crowd rose to clap and sing along.
They stood for “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” and “God Bless America.”
They clapped along to “76 Trombones,” from the Broadway classic “The Music Man.”
Some got up and danced.
Larry Sprinkle of WCNC-TV, the evening’s emcee, said the annual Kannapolis concert is one of his favorites.
“There’s being a part of the event, the music of the Charlotte Symphony,” Sprinkle said.
“And I love the setting here, the park atmosphere. I do a lot of outdoor events, and this may be the best,” he said.
In an interview last week, Schram said his favorite part of the Charlotte Symphony’s show would be the salute to the armed forces.
As the anthems of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard played, veterans and servicemembers stood.
Schram waved from the stage as each group rose to be honored.
“We are truly grateful,” Schram said from the stage.
The armed forces salute isn’t just important to those who serve and to veterans.
Rena Laton of Charlotte came to the concert with her friend, Betty Randles.
“My husband served in the Navy,” Laton said.
He was unable to come to the concert with her due to illness. But she was proud of the attention given to veterans.
“It was very humbling,” she said. “I’m thankful we have a free country and people who are willing to give up their lives to keep us free.”
Outside the park, this was the year that Kannapolis turned out for fireworks.
In recent years, some families have gathered on the grounds of the N.C. Research Campus to watch the fireworks display.
This year, they came by the hundreds.
The fireworks are set off on a vacant part of the campus between the research lab buildings and Village Park.
By 9:15 p.m., every foot of the roads leading onto and around the Research Campus was filled with spectators’ cars.
Vehicles were parked over both curbs and on the medians on Pine Street, 1st Street and Laureate Way.
Groups sat in picnic chairs on the backs of trucks, and on blankets in the grass, to watch the shells burst in the sky.
Others stood on the sidewalks along downtown streets.
When the fireworks were over, they clapped and cheered. Drivers honked their horns and flashed their headlights.
“I think they did a great job,” said Brent Offenberger.
He brought wife, Amy, and sons Christopher and Luke to see the fireworks.
Luke, 10, said his favorite part was “probably the smiley face.”
Several shells burst into shapes, including smiley faces and stars.
“My favorite part was being here with my family,” Brent said.
Garrett Ballard, of Salisbury, said he was glad to see a city putting on a free event that was so popular.
“With the economy being the way it is, people can’t get out and do stuff,” Ballard said.
It was also a chance for residents to see the changing face of downtown.
Employees of the Research Campus gathered around the buildings where they worked.
At the University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute, facilities staff member Ryan Dayvault said he was glad to see people walking and driving through.
“It’s exactly what needs to happen,” Dayvault said. “It builds a bridge between the campus and the community.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.