Fourth festivities were a blast

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The Fourth of July celebration that invites the world into Pittsburgh's backyard went out in a flurry of bangs and a shower of light.

Be it by boat, bridge or on the makeshift beach set up on the Allegheny River steps, guests at the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta found ways to wrap up the holiday and the festival as close as they could possibly get to the "Flashes of Freedom" fireworks show. The finale event, sponsored by EQT and created by Zambelli Fireworks, capped off a three-day extravaganza that included the Pogopalooza extreme pogo world championship, food from the History Channel show "Cross Country Cookout," an "Anything That Floats" competition and, of course, high-speed boat races along the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers.

With a new set of delays due to security checks and crowds anticipated to reach more than half a million by the Regatta's chairman of the board John Bonassi, guests weren't waiting for sunset to find spots for the big show.

"I come here every year, rain or shine. Last year, it rained and I sat right under that tree" said Marvin Harding of Swissvale.

Perched in a folding vinyl chair with a central view of the Point State Park Fountain, Mr. Harding said he arrived about 4 pm to claim the same spot he commandeers every year around this time. Mr. Harding, a boomerang resident who made his way back to Pittsburgh after 35 years away during tours of military duty, said going to the Regatta was an annual tradition regardless of where he resided. After years of road trips to the event, invitations to local barbecues weren't about to keep him and his family away from the Point.

"I've been invited to barbecues in the Hill District and in Homewood, but I wasn't going, he said. "Every Fourth of July, they know this is where we're going to be."

For Yu Cheng, a native of Shanghai, China, living in Squirrel Hill with her husband and 4-year-old daughter Nancy Cao, arriving near sundown wasn't as big of a deal as it might have been for a Regatta veteran. Sitting on a blanket near the Point State Park entrance, Mrs. Cheng and Nancy settled in about 7:30 pm in time for a set by the Granati Brothers that covered hits from Aerosmith's classic 80s smash "Walk This Way" to Pharrell's "Happy."

Although the size of the crowd surprised her a little, Mrs. Cheng said she was excited to share the experience with her family.

"I really wanted her to get a feel about the event," said Mrs. Cheng, motioning toward Nancy.

Getting the kids out of the house and in front of the fireworks was this year's primary goal for Jack Francis of Scott, but it might not be the plan next year. Acres of inflatable play areas, face painting stations and balloon sculptors weren't enough to tucker out a crew of four kids ages 4 to 16.

With the toddlers running circles around their blanket and hours to spare before the fireworks, Mr. Francis said he'd make at least one adjustment if he returned next year.

"My wife and I will go by ourselves," he said with a laugh. "That way we'll get to see more."

Deborah M. Todd: or 412-263-1652. Twitter: @deborahtodd.

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