Originally created 01/01/00

Celebrants bring merrymaking downtown

In a flurry of pyrotechnics and a rain of paper streamers and confetti, the new year in downtown Augusta was greeted by the pop of fireworks and the cheers of thousands as the Celebrate 2000 New Year's Eve Street Party drew to a close.

Starting with a whisper and ending with a pleasant bang, the street party offered something for everyone who attended.

"This is the only time any of us are going to see the end of a century, much less a millennium," said Wayne Bennett, explaining why he chose to come downtown. "So we thought we would try this out and see what was going on."

Spread across three stages and six city blocks, 14 bands and a variety of other acts, booths and family activities offered the city of Augusta plenty of entertainment choices.

On the Seventh Street stage, entertainment was geared toward a family audience. Boasting choirs and choruses and a liberal sprinkling of country and Top 40 acts, the stage offered an eclectic mix of entertainment possibilities. At this stage, a special New Year celebration was staged for children at 7 p.m. that coordinated with midnight in England and parts of Western Europe and Africa.

It seemed appropriate that the acts on the stage at Broad Street and James Brown Avenue shared a more urban, R&B approach to their music.

The stage at the corner of 11th and Broad streets played host to local bands People Who Must, Impulse Ride and Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famers The Impressions. Pulling people in early with their pop-infused guitar music, People Who Must warmed the crowd up for their harder-edged Augusta brethren Impulse Ride. The assembled audience seemed unconcerned when gears shifted to the gospel-based sounds of The Impressions.

"Augusta, Georgia -- 264 years young!," said William S. Morris III, chief executive officer of Morris Communications Corp., who helped Mayor Bob Young count down the final minutes of 1999 at the main stage on 11th and Broad streets. "We've got a great future together."

Celebrate 2000 was a yearlong effort coordinated locally by The Augusta Chronicle to usher in the new millennium. Other sponsors of the program included WRDW Channel 12, the Davis Broadcasting and Beasley Broadcasting radio groups, and the cities of Augusta and North Augusta.

Some attending the event admitted to being concerned about the possibility of violence during the event.

"I was worried by all the stuff that was said this week," Teresa Keel said. "I keep looking at the tops of buildings, seeing if anybody is up there."

It was a fear shared by many businesses. Walking the length of the street party, many storefronts that would have, under ordinary circumstances been illuminated, remained dark. A few, mostly restaurants and bars, opened for street party crowds.

Josh Kitchens, manager of the newly-opened Metro, said its reason for opening was monetarily-based.

"We need the money," he said, laughing. "This is the first night we were going to be open, and we need the cash."

Mr. Kitchens added that he had been very pleased and a little surprised by the way people had behaved.

"We all brought our shotguns and SWAT gear," he joked. "But so far, there has been no harm done."

Volunteers working the Celebrate 2000 party said the event seemed remarkable not because of the things that happened, but because of the things that did not.

"I haven't had any problems," said Cassandra Foat, who checked for buttons at an entrance on Ninth Street. "I thought there might be more crowds."

Red Cross volunteer Alex Beacham said there were few incidents at the party.

"Right now things are a lot better than we expected -- we've had no incidents, and we've heard of no incidents, and that's the way we like it," he said. "It's been as quiet as a church."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 orsuhles@hotmail.com.


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