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Norwich — It didn't matter to the thousands of people who crowded onto every patch of green grass and any available paved spot surrounding Norwich Harbor tonight that Independence Day was yesterday.
The annual Norwich Fireworks Festival lived up to its reputation as the city's top summer event, with warm muggy weather but perfectly clear skies and a slight breeze to break the heat and blow the smoke out of the way as the explosive display lit up the sky.
A steady stream of fireworks fans headed to Howard T. Brown Memorial Park, the Marina at American Wharf and every other possible venue by early evening, but Shawna Blake, her husband, brother-in-law and several nieces and nephews were surprised to find one of the best seats in the house still available at 7 p.m.
The family set up chairs at the water's edge at Brown Park, where only the ducks in the water would have a better view of the show. Blake said the family comes every year and picks a spot wherever they can find one.
"We just got lucky this year," she said, turning to see the park behind her crammed with chairs and blankets.
The favorite novelty item for the event seemed to be the bubble-blowing guns sold by numerous vendors. The ground-level air at Brown Park filled with bubbles at times as people negotiated the crowd to reach the food stands. The line at Erickson's Ice Cream stretched along the Heritage Trail walkway that runs along the edge of the park.
Mostly hidden from view from the huge crowd at ground level, more than 300 fireworks fans headed to the roof of the Market Street garage for the event's newest feature — a rooftop barbecue and cash bar fundraiser for the fireworks, sponsored by the Harp & Dragon Irish pub.
Scott Capano, co-owner of Harp & Dragon, received City Council permission to set up about 40 round dining tables and sell standing room space to help pay for the $15,000-plus fireworks display.
The live band, Savage Brothers, planned to play past midnight.
"I love it," said Bryan Twomey of Norwich, who comes to the fireworks every year. "It's the best idea Norwich has had in a while."
Thomas Marien agreed. He bought a $100 table for his family on the garage roof.
"I think it's great," Marien said. "I hope they do this more to find ways to support the fireworks."
Capano has that in mind. He said he hopes to make the Market Street garage an annual venue for the fireworks display, and hopes to obtain city permission to hold barbecue events there a few times a year to raise money for the fireworks.
"And to have fun," he said.