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3-day Clearwater fest will end with a bang

Despite stifling humidity and the threat of rain, Clearwater's first day of holiday festivities was anything but a wet firecracker.

Organizers of "Clearwater Celebrates America" expected about 40,000 people to enjoy Sunday's opening festivities at Coachman Park.

The three-day Independence Day celebration continues today and culminates in a fireworks display at 9:30 p.m. on the Fourth of July.

Sunday's festivities featured local oldies bands, food and arcade games and an evening concert by '60s and '70s recording artists Three Dog Night.

Mona Wyllie of Clearwater and her 13-year-old daughter Rachel staked out a prime spot in front of the stage at 10:30 a.m., nearly 11 hours before the band was scheduled to perform. They brought along a Game Boy, magazines and books for the long wait.

"I'm a big Three Dog Night fan from way back," said Wyllie.

"By tonight, you won't be able to see any of the grass with all those blankets," said event organizer Terry Schmidt, whose non-profit group, Clearwater Festivals Inc., has put on the event with the city of Clearwater for four years.

The fest had 50 volunteers and up to 40 police officers on hand. No crowd or parking problems were reported by late afternoon.

The event attracted people from the bay area and beyond.

"I'm a big fan of celebrations like this. The food, the music, the whole ambience," said Glenda Stone, who drove in from Ocala.

A steady stream of admirers strolled along the park entrance to see the "Big Bang" classic car show sponsored by the Ace Auto Parts chain. About 80 brightly colored cars and trucks were on display.

The nostalgic, all-American theme continues today with performances by recording artists the Mamas and Papas, and the Turtles with Flo and Eddie. The Fourth of July celebration focuses on patriotic music including the Mostly Pops Orchestra with John and Mary K. Wilson.