By Michael Norris, Pentagram Assistant EditorApril 16, 2012
Although petals from the cherry blossom trees had already fallen due to an early spring, the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival in Washington, D.C., attracted 45,000 people through its eight hour duration April 7. The festival was one of dozens of events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the trees -- a gift from Japan to the American people -- as part of the 2012 National Cherry Blossom Festival.
The event began at Kastles Stage off Maine Avenue in Southwest Washington with a concert by the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Band and a presentation by the Joint Armed Forces Color Guard before approximately 500 festival goers seated in bleachers at the converted tennis stadium.
A delegation of festival organizers, including J. Nickerson, president of the Washington Waterfront Association, Diana Mayhew, president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival and Andy Litsky, chairman of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission for Ward 6, provided opening remarks from the stage. Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington, commander of Joint Force Headquarters - National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, joined officials, highlighting the partnership nearby Fort McNair, a part of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, shares with its neighbors.
"I'm delighted to welcome you here to the Southwest Washington Waterfront Festival and the centennial of the trees," Nickerson said, noting how this year was also the bicentennial of the War of 1812. "As you know, Southwest is the home of the cherry trees and that's why we hold this festival."
He thanked the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard volunteers at the festival and referencing the Navy Band's performance, gushed, "Whenever I hear the national anthem, it's special."
Nickerson introduced Linnington as a strong presence in the Southwest community. "He's the big man. When things go bad in Washington, he takes care of us," the Waterfront Association president said.
Linnington, noting how MDW's home, Fort McNair, was only a nine iron drive from the festival site, cited the military volunteers present and touted the quality of The U.S. Army Band Downrange and The U.S. Army Blues jazz ensemble, scheduled to perform at the festival later in the day.
Airman 1st Class Michael Kern from Andrews Air Force Base, a volunteer at the festival who ran errands and helped festival goers with directions, said the event was a fun way to spend a Saturday, and it didn't hurt that participating contributed to his accumulating promotion points.
Children at the festival had plenty of activities to keep them occupied, including games, origami, decorating wind socks and assembling miniature sailboats they could launch in an inflatable pool.
With several styles of boats to choose from, 4-year-old Kayla Jones opted for a "minnow," a small, narrow block of wood she methodically attached mast and sail to, mysteriously painting a backwards "4" on the deck and abstract designs on the hull.
While the bright sunny day provided plenty of wind to propel the wind socks, the miniature boats at the Gangplank Marina Park Stage were primarily animated by balloon-cheeked gusts of air from children, or by them agitating the water behind the vessels to create man-made waves.
Soldiers from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall's Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program manned several concession stands at the festival. Spcs. Seth Lenker and Thomas Wilder, along with BOSS advisor LeRoy Harris, served drinks, popcorn and cotton candy to long lines of hungry and thirsty patrons at the Washington Channel Stage. Lenker got so caught up in twirling tufts of cotton candy that airborne wisps of the sticky confection coated his clothes and head, with floating tendrils extending from eyebrow and ear to waft in the wind.
"We did not take a break from 2 to 8:30 p.m. and the crowds really began to swell as the fireworks approached" said Harris. "[BOSS Soldiers] did an outstanding job and stayed the course." He added that the organization grossed $1,500 at the event, money that will help supplement BOSS recreational activities and service projects throughout the year.
As dusk approached, The U.S. Army Band Downrange took the Kastles Stage, performing an Earth, Wind and Fire medley and the "Army Strong" theme song. The U.S. Army Blues performed Japanese-American composer Toshiko Akiyoshi's "Tuning Up" and Perez Prado's "Cherry Blossom Pink, Apple Blossom White." Toward the end of the set, Downrange's Sgt. 1st Class Christal Rheams joined the Blues for an Ella Fitzgerald tribute and "God Bless America," which segued into the festival's concluding fireworks.
Several observers of the fireworks noted the unusually vibrant colors in the evening display over the waterfront with deep red, yellow, green and blue hues illuminating the sky. Streamers fired from ground-level seemed to resemble the trunk of a tree while the starbursts in the final stage mimicked unfurling cherry blossoms. The city of Nagaoke, Japan, which provided the fireworks for the centennial celebration, describes these pyrotechnics as "fire flowers." It was an eye-popping conclusion to a 100th anniversary celebration of friendship between two nations and the many components of a neighborhood community.