Despite showers, thousands celebrate Water Festival's opening night

July 15, 2011 

JONATHAN DYER, THE BEAUFORT GAZETTE

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Threatening skies and sometimes heavy showers Friday night did little to dampen the spirits of the thousands of people who packed Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park to help kick off one of Beaufort's most beloved annual events.

Local dignitaries as well as area residents and visitors -- many toting umbrellas and ponchos -- packed the park for the opening night of the 56th annual Beaufort Water Festival. The 10-day festival continues today with a full slate of events that includes an evening concert in the park featuring country music artist Lee Brice.

Strong gusts of wind sent Water Festival volunteers scrambling to cover microphones and large speakers with plastic tarps. Driving rain briefly sent spectators scurrying for nearby overhangs and tree branches, but the weather did not otherwise hinder the night's festivities.

"They call this a Water Festival, right?" 2011 Water Festival Commodore Bob Bible asked as the rain soaked the attentive crowd. "Well, I got you some water."

Many in attendance preferred Friday night's weather to the sweltering heat that enveloped the Lowcountry earlier this week.

"I don't mind carrying around this umbrella," said Lee Smith, a Lady's Island resident. "I'll take a little bit of rain to that God awful heat and humidity we had earlier this week. To be honest with you, if it had been as hot tonight as it was Wednesday or Thursday, I wouldn't be here and I bet a lot of these other people wouldn't be here, either."

The opening ceremony featured the official introduction of Bible as Water Festival Commodore, an F-18 flyover from the Checkerboards of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort's Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312 and a performance by the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island Band.

But for many who attended Friday night's free event, the star of the show was the night's fireworks display over the Beaufort River.

"The fireworks over the river are my favorite part of Water Festival," said Sue Leggett of Beaufort. "When I think of summer, I always think of the Water Festival and those fireworks. They just go hand-in-hand."

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