The thousands who poured into Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park on Friday were treated to a decidedly different opening night to the 54th annual Beaufort Water Festival than the one a year ago.
Gone were the thunder, bolts of lightning, gusty winds and heavy rain that plagued the first night of the 2008 Water Festival. In their place was a slight breeze, low humidity and lots of sunshine.
"It's a complete 180 from last year," said Bill Glazer of Lady's Island, as he sat with his wife, Betsy, in a pair of folding chairs awaiting the start of Friday's festivities. "Last year was an absolute bear of a day -- rain, thunder, and lots of lightning not far from the park, so we were happy that the weather cooperated this year."
"We didn't even think about bringing our umbrellas," Betsy added. "We didn't want to jinx ourselves or any of these people here tonight."
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Friday night's opening ceremonies marked the official start of the 10-day festival, an event that Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said showcases the best of Beaufort.
"(The Water Festival) is what Beaufort's about," said Keyserling, a lifelong Beaufortonian who is celebrating his first Water Festival as mayor. "It's about water, it's about sun, and it's about people coming together and celebrating their hometown."
"It's really a nod to the 40 or 50 people who work year-round to bring this event to the community," he said. "Where else can you go on a July afternoon and see all of these smiling faces, putting aside the day-to-day stuff to celebrate their community?"
The opening ceremonies featured the official introduction of 2009 Water Festival Commodore Wilmot Schott, an F-18 flyover from the Silver Eagles of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort's Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 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, which was cut short last year due to lightning.
"This bluff is the best kept secret in the Water Festival," said Scott Chapelle of Beaufort as he and wife Julie sat on a bluff about a half-mile from Waterfront Park. "It's worth missing everything that goes on in the park to get to see the fireworks from under these live oaks with the whole marsh in front of you. This is what the Water Festival is really about."