ALEXANDRIA, VA – It was 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 8. The skies began to darken and distant thunder echoed across the city. The droplets, slow at first, began to pelt windows and windshields with a fury. At 4:52, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson issued a Facebook post.
By 5:40 p.m., the storm slowly crawled away. Oronoco Bay Park was all set for the big show. The large stage was erect, the tech crew running sound checks and worrying the rain would return. The early birds had the pick of the park. Twenty minutes before the first act was to take the stage, the expansive green lawn was wide open and nearly empty.
Build it and they will come. One by one, the groups arrived, setting up tents and tables and elaborate picnic spreads. As Mistress of Ceremonies Suraya Mohamed, NPR Music Producer, welcomed the crowd, the grass suddenly filled up with people, chairs, blankets, and food. The warm-up act, Three Man Soul Machine, revved up its musical instruments and got the party started. Later, between the cupcakes and the Star-Spangled Banner, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson praised his intrepid citizens in an interview.
“We don’t let a little rain hold us back. This is a great event every year. People look forward to this. This is about our community coming together and we’re not going to let anything get in the way of the celebration. It’s a great night!”
Each summer, on the Saturday following the Fourth of July, Alexandrians come together to celebrate their city’s birthday. It is a rollicking outdoor extravaganza of cupcakes, concerts, and fireworks. Mayor Wilson opened the festivities with remarks, no doubt relieved rain did not upend carefully constructed plans. He was followed by Alexandria’s Town Crier Ben Fiore-Walker and Alexandria Poet Laureate Zeina Azzam.
The mayor then directed the crowd to an oversized tent where over 3,000 cupcakes waited to be devoured. Wilson, city councilmembers, and other dignitaries served up the gooey confections to a long line of eager attendees that seemed to stretch forever.
In a conversation with Zebra Press, dusting cupcake sugar off his shirt, Mayor Wilson was asked about next year when Alexandria hits the big one, 275 years old.
“We have started! We are planning a huge celebration for 275. Next year is a big milestone for this city. We have a lot of history to tell, to interpret, to celebrate.”
Maritime history is front and center in this waterfront town. The mayor motioned toward the Potomac River, where a boat would be shooting off fireworks later that evening.
“We come from the river. So much of our history has been a part of this river. The commerce, the people who worked here, and honestly the people who were trafficked through the waterfront. And the people today who live along the waterfront and celebrate the waterfront.”
The last time Zebra Press saw Mayor Wilson this exuberant was May 19, the opening of the Potomac Yard – Virginia Tech Metro station. “It’s going great!” the mayor beamed, assessing the first month and a half of operation. Wilson boards the train at Potomac Yard – VT most weekdays, noting that the community finds this new station useful.
“The ridership already comprises about a fifth of all the stations in the Metro system. We’ve seen incredible ridership over the last several weeks and that will continue to grow,” the mayor offered, before heading back into the crowd to shake hands.
Food trucks lined the perimeter of Oronoco Bay Park, along with children’s art activities, information booths, and solar-powered charging stations.
The rain held off all evening and while the park grounds were slick and a little muddy, the throng of cheerful participants seemed not to notice or mind.
Next up was the Grand Finale. The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra performed a mix of Broadway and film scores and finished up with classic summer fireworks numbers. As the fireworks show shot up from a river boat and exploded across the sky, the orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, complete with thunderous cannon fire, and Stars and Stripes Forever by John Phillip Sousa.