In the center arch of the back veranda of the state Capitol building Saturday, Christopher Foote sat among a group of friends and family, as he’s done for the past 10 years or so.
From there, he had a clear view down the Empire State Plaza, a stately frame for the fireworks later that night, and, importantly, a roof to keep him dry.
“It’s the perfect place for the fireworks,” he said. “You’re under the alcove, you’ve got the breeze that blows through, and when the show hits, what’s wonderful is you get the biggest echo on this. I’ve been all around the plaza over the years, but this is pretty cool.”
The 40th annual New York State Independence Day celebration at the Empire State Plaza got a slow start Saturday as rain and clouds lingered until late afternoon. Then the weather broke, and the crowds started filling up the plaza.
That was no surprise to Foote. He’s seen it year after year for about as long as he can remember.
“I’ve been coming here since I was a tiny tot. It’s been a long, long time,” he said. “As you get closer to [the fireworks], as long as the weather holds out, what you’ll notice is about two hours beforehand, you’ll see it’s going to start to get really crowded, and then about an hour before it hits, this huge surge of humanity just shows up.”
When the crowds came, they came in T-shirts emblazoned with the American flag and bald eagles, tall Uncle Sam hats, stars-and-stripes sunglasses, and more modest displays of red, white and blue to listen to music, eat hot dogs, watch fireworks, and celebrate the nation’s founding.
The event, hosted by New York State and Price Chopper, was headlined this year by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, who took the stage at 8 p.m. before the “largest pyrotechnics display in the region” lit up the sky at 9:15.
Bilinda McManus came all the way from Long Island to see the show because she is “obsessed with fireworks.”
She arrived early, like Foote, to stake out a prime spot on the center of the plaza — in fact, she arrived very, very early. She, along with Jeffrey Blume and his young son, arrived at the plaza around 6 p.m. on Friday, wondering where everyone was. Then she realized they were a day early.
“So we called that our dry run, and we’re back here again today,” she said. “So I’m hoping it’s all it’s cracked up to be.”
But before the fireworks, before the music, something much more fundamentally American happened: A group of immigrants stood up on the main stage and officially became U.S. citizens.
Twenty-one new citizens from 16 countries said the Pledge of Allegiance Saturday and walked off the stage as Americans in the event’s annual naturalization ceremony. They joined more than 600 immigrants who became citizens over the past few days in ceremonies around the state, according to the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“For generations — and to this day — this is the place where people from around the world come to pursue a brighter future for themselves and their families,” Cuomo said Thursday. “I proudly welcome these New Americans and new New Yorkers to this great tradition as we prepare to celebrate Independence Day.”
Ask just about any reveler walking around in a flag T-shirt on Independence Day what they love about America, and you’ll get one answer over and over: “Freedom.”
On the plaza, Jeffrey Blume had a bit more to say about it as he and his son waited for the fireworks to start.
“I’ve been to other countries and this is still the greatest place to live in the world,” he said. “The freedoms and personal freedoms, that’s what makes America great. We fought for them, we have them, and that’s something we should always hold dear and preserve.”
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