What started out as a bleak-looking Fourth of July turned into a rousing success Saturday for the annual Central PA 4th Fest celebrations.
A steady rain from the previous night cleared to a light drizzle by the afternoon and clear skies by the early evening, paving the way for a day of food, activities, music and, of course, the beloved fireworks show.
There was something for everyone — music fans had multiple stages with numerous acts to choose from; foodies had almost endless options; sports fans were in the center of the Penn State football scene; and kids had plenty of games and activities.
Adam Swartz, of Adam Swartz Puppets, was on hand with historical characters to interact with the kids, as well as the chance to dress up in period clothing and pose for a photo op. The State College native said he’s been participating in 4th Fest for a number of years.
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“It’s a great chance to use the puppets to introduce kids to people from history they may have never learned about,” he said, a puppet Paul Revere sitting on his right hand. “The kids might learn something they’ve never heard about in class before.”
A grand tradition of the 4th Fest is the Giant Foods Flag Cake, and this year did not disappoint. The cake was unveiled shortly before the official cake cutting at 6 p.m., and already a line of hungry visitors had wrapped its way around the lot.
The cake had been baked earlier that day, North Atherton Street Giant store manager Jeff Wheeler said. It takes about eight hours to bake the 54 half-sheet cakes that are then assembled into the enormous flag.
Once assembled, it takes two to three people to decorate the cake, he said, with another six to eight to load it onto the truck for delivery to the fest. The board holding the cake is anchored with sandbags to keep it from sliding around.
“It feels good to be a tradition,” Wheeler said, noting Giant has been donating a cake for about 20 years. “Every year someone asks about it. People in the store today were asking what time the cake will be cut.”
Not only is the cake a highly sought after fest food item, but this year, it was part of a greater project for one State High student.
Caleb Eyster, 16, has been volunteering to help with the cake since he was 6. Aging up through the ranks, he moved from soliciting donations to cutting the cake itself. This year, he oversaw all the cake volunteers as part of his senior project.
“As well as being in charge of running this and doing all the announcements,” Eyster said, “I went with another person to bring (the cake) from Giant. I basically make sure everyone has a place, everything is running smoothly with the amount of volunteers that we have, and that all volunteers know exactly what they want to do.”
Eyster still held his place helping slice up the blue field of stars as he has been for the past few years.
The fest was a leadership opportunity for another State High student as well.
Matt Cooper, 16, of Boy Scout Troop 32, set up dog rest stations to help the four-footed guests who frequent the fest as part of his Eagle Scout leadership program.
“I have a dog, and we come down here every year and it’s usually hot,” he said. “Vendors don’t like giving out their water for free to dogs, so I thought I’d put an end to that by giving them a good place to drink up.”
Bowls of water and bags of treats could be found under Cooper’s tents. A majority of the supplies were donated, he said, by local stores like Ollie’s, Tractor Supply and Home Depot. A few dozen dogs had already taken advantage of his rest station by early evening.
The evening was capped by the fan-favorite fireworks show. For 45 minutes, the air was filled with colorful explosions of every sort — red, white and blue sparks lit up the sky during patriotic favorites like “God Bless America,” and multicolored smiley faces burst outward during Pharrell’s hit “Happy.”
Fay Switzer, who drove from Sunbury to see the show, said it was “well worth it.”
Switzer, who said she was in her 70s, said she has been coming to the fest for many years and the fireworks keep getting better.
“I come down to see the show with my son now,” she said. “This was very nice.”