4th Fest Unites Community in Celebration
Explosions danced in the air above the Penn State campus on Friday evening, showering the crowds gathered below in flashes of light and the sounds of cracking thunder.
The Central Pa 4th Fest fireworks display synchronized patriotic blooms of red, white and blue light to a playlist ranging from classical to contemporary pop that blared from speakers.
Beginning with the lone call of a bugle and a single firework, the display grew over 45 minutes, culminating in a blistering barrage of echoing booms. Though the crowd was silent as the reflections of light on the drifting smoke faded, everyone quickly exploded into applause.
Dave Romancheck drives over three hours from Allentown each year with his family to attend the Central Pa 4th Fest. A self-described “fireworks fanatic,” Romancheck says he’s always been impressed by the sheer size of the festival’s fireworks display.
“Allentown is huge compared to this town, but their fireworks are nothing compared to this,” he says. “It must be three or four times the size of what we get over there.”
Noah Mumma came to see the fireworks for the first time after his sister Sarah insisted they come. Sarah says her husband read about 4th Fest’s extensive reputation online and brought them last year.
“They were awesome and loud, with car alarms going off,” she says. “They were the best fireworks we’ve ever seen.”
This year’s fireworks lived up to the festival’s reputation for excellence for many in attendance. Alex Zenker, a former Penn State student who comes to the show each year, says the show never fails to “create that same feeling of awe and excitement.”
Erin Sloan remembers first watching the 4th Fest fireworks as a student at Penn State in 1996. She’s amazed at how the festival has grown into the major event it is today, but says they’ve kept the same focus on putting on a quality show year after year.
For some festival goers like Harvey Hanlen of Boalsburg, the fireworks were “absolutely great” but second to the real focus: spending time with family.
Every few years, Hanlen gathers up the clan in the Stormstown area in his RV and they tailgate together outside Beaver Stadium on the Fourth of July. Though he jokes they just wanted an excuse to watch the Pirates game outside, he says tailgating is his favorite part of the day.
“I like to think of it as warming up for tailgating in the fall,” Hanlen says.
For other families at Friday’s annual festival, a line up of live music and performances kept festival attendees of all ages happy and entertained.
Phillip Buczney, an excited child up from Florida with his family to visit his Penn State sister, says his favorite part of the day was watching the lumberjack competition. Jamie Fischer and Nate Greenberg, both professional lumberjacks from Minnesota, made their return to the 4th Fest to compete in log rolling and racing chainsaws after receiving a warm welcome last year.
“It’s really cool to watch them when they’re running across the logs and you can watch them fall into the water,” Buczney says, wearing a hat signed by Greenberg after Greenberg successfully ran across a series of floating logs in just over 8 seconds. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
A BMX performance from the Dialed Action Sports Team of Boalsburg also impressed the crowd. Featuring coordinated flips and seemingly impossible mid-air twists, their high flying tricks were a source of inspiration for some aspiring BMX bikers.
Jake Hanczar, a Penn State freshman, was impressed by the Dialed team’s effort to engage the audience and educate kids about safety. An aspiring biker himself, Hanczar hopes “to do something similar someday and help to promote this great sport.”
Attendees also enjoyed performances ranging from the Irish footwork of the Tir Na Nog Dancers to the funky blues of Jackie Brown and the Gill Street Band. Though State College resident Andy Richards says his son Liam missed last year’s carnival rides, he enjoyed meeting wild animals at the new booth from the Shaver’s Creek nature center.
For many who keep returning to the Central Pa 4th Fest year after year, the annual event helps elevate the area from being just a town to being a closely-knit community.
“I feel like where we live [in Washington D.C.] we don’t get that sense of a small town coming together to celebrate,” Erin Sloan says. “Here, everyone comes out dressed up in their red, white and blue. I really like that feeling.”