Fireworks crews spent part of Friday loading the barge from McGovney Dock. By early evening, the rain showed little sign of stopping and the Civic Forum decided to push the event to Saturday.
"It was pouring down rain down here, and we've had several rainstorms here and the water's running off the bank down here, down into the river. There's just no place for anybody to sit, and if you're expecting 18,000 people in a crowd and they got no place to sit; I'm not going to shoot a big show like that for an empty crowd," said Gene Arms, of the Civic Forum.
After gaining approval from the Coast Guard, the festivities finally began Saturday at 7 p.m. at Riverfront Amphitheater, with acts such as Mighty Fine and comedian Bob Batch. Both originally were planned to perform on Friday, but were postponed along with the fireworks. By 10 p.m. Saturday, the sky was alight with wonderment as thousands of eyes watched with excitement along the Ohio River.
"They used to shoot out of Spartan Stadium, out over the levy, and the crowds sat in the grandstands and watched it. But federal regulations kept changing and more safety zones were required. So we moved it," Arms said. "We (later) moved it down to the river front and used two flatbed trailers for the stage, and then they got the amphitheater down there and we were the first ones to use it. We've been using it ever since, and it's an ideal place, provided the water's not up."
Years ago, the Civic Forum also used to host day-long activities, such as the soapbox derby. Several years ago, the derby ended, and Arms said now the national soapbox derby organization has lost its sponsorship. He said if the national organization can be saved, he would like to see it return to Portsmouth within a few years.
Funding for the Civic Forum, and the annual fireworks display, comes from local donations and contributions. This year's event was sponsored, in part, by contributions from individuals and businesses like Wal-Mart and USEC.
The fireworks display had been expected to last 40 minutes.
"I can't say enough for the Civic Forum. They have always done an outstanding job putting the Fourth of July celebration together," said assistant minority leader Rep. Todd Book, D-McDermott (89th District).
RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235.