Friday, July 4, 2008 | 4:12 a.m.
Thousands of North Las Vegans braved the blazing heat Thursday night to celebrate America’s birthday with food, fireworks and a variety of family-friendly fun at the ninth-annual Independence Day Jubilee at Seastrand Park.
The event began with the singing of the national anthem by Las Vegas resident Chelsea Beeston, who was awarded the honor after winning an "American Idol"-style contest sponsored by 97.1 FM.
Beeston, 22, an assistant manager at a local Starbucks, said singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in front of such a large group went by quickly despite the fact that she was "a little bit nervous."
"I've sung the national anthem before plenty of times, but never in front of a group this large," she said. A recent graduate of the Las Vegas Academy Theater for Performing Arts, Beeston said her dream is to sing at venues in and around Las Vegas.
"I love Starbucks, but I’d love to be singing," she said.
Beeston wasn’t the only musical act of the evening. Area cover band Yellow Brick Road got the crowd grooving to two sets chock full of classic rock hits ranging from Metallica to Queen.
With temperatures that tipped into the 110s, a big focus of the evening was keeping cool. Umbrellas, frozen drinks and bottled water peppered the crowd. The North Las Vegas City Council and mayor’s office sponsored a free ice cream stand to help combat the heat.
The free ice cream and Popsicles have been a tradition for the past six years, mayor’s office employee Donna Gamble said.
"The ice cream is just a way for the mayor and council to reach out to the community and share the joy," she said. "And it’s hot out here, so the ice cream is nice and cold."
The holiday festivity is one of several events put on by the city of North Las Vegas throughout the year.
“The Jubilee is very well attended each year,” said Patrick Genovese, who works in the city's special events department. “We usually have about 22,000 people, and have for the last several years.”
Early in the evening, U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) presented the citizens of North Las Vegas with a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition. She said the certificate was for putting on such a community-centric event so many years in a row.
"It's a great community event and I think North Las Vegas has a lot to be very proud of," she said. "This is a remarkable community in a remarkable nation and the Fourth of July gives us an opportunity not only to celebrate the birth of this great nation, but to appreciate all the things we have as Americans."
Patriotic sentiments abounded at the community celebration. Las Vegas resident Terry Nordbye was one of several community activists who attended the event as part of an effort to register voters.
“I’m 55 years old, I have no children, but I’m out here beating the pavement because I love my country and I’m worried about the future,” Nordbye said. “I’m not doing this for myself; I’m doing this because I’m not going to be around when we really start to feel the crunch. I’m out here because I really want to see the younger people get more involved.”
Sporting an American flag bandana, Richard Baker said his favorite part about Independence Day is celebrating what he fought for in the Vietnam War. He rode his motorcycle to Seastrand Park from his home in California so he could spend the holiday with his nephew and grandniece.
"It has to do with all the veterans who went to war before me, that have fallen, that have survived, that came back and that fought for our freedom," Baker said. "This is what Fourth of July is all about: our freedom, our liberty … and all the other veterans, throughout time."
Rob Pavlowski, whose family has been in the Las Vegas Valley since 1910, said the Fourth of July is an important holiday to him.
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"I’m proud to be an American. I’m very blessed that our troops and our military are able to provide freedom for us," he said. "I pray everyday that those troops come home safe. If it wasn’t for them, we definitely would not be able to celebrate the way we’re celebrating now."
Although the inflatable slides, carnival rides, face-painting booths and patriotic temporary tattoos were fun for everyone, the biggest boom of the evening was the fireworks display.
Spectators started trickling in when the gates opened at 5 p.m., but by the time the rockets started soaring four-and-a-half hours later, the park was wall-to-wall people.
At promptly 9:30 p.m., bouquets of reds, whites and blues started exploding over the park. Festival-goers "oohed" and "ahhed" as the rockets flew overhead and burst into a multitude of colors to the tune of traditional music piped in through the loudspeakers.
“I thought they were really amazing, pretty and colorful,” 16-year-old Julie Dolores said. “I’ll definitely be coming back next year. I love it.”
Kris Barcelon, 16, said he also was impressed with the show.
“The fireworks were really loud but it was really cool with all the different colors,” he said. “I especially liked the grand finale when everything just came together and started shooting up.”
For Barcelon and many others who attended Fourth of July events Thursday night, the nation’s birthday party is just getting started. Barcelon said he plans to attend a second fireworks display Friday night.