CENTERBURG — Torrid temperatures did not deter festivalgoers from Friday’s edition of the 2009 Heart of Ohio USA Days celebration. Country singer Jeff Leonard started off the evening’s entertainment, and a cruise-in of classic cars adorned the hill above the park.
Among the vehicles on display were a Plymouth Barracuda Six Pack, a Studebaker Champion, a Cutlass, a Comet and several Cameros. Gary McDonald of the Centerburg area was more than willing to talk about his 1959 Corvette, which he has owned for 46 years. Although the paint job is new, and some work has been done on the engine, McDonald said 98 percent of the chrome is the original trim from when the car was manufactured 50 years ago.
Four-year-old Caleb Bennett of Howard carefully checked out McDonald’s classy Corvette. He said he liked it because it was a convertible, and also because “the tires and wheels are shiny.”
Next on the agenda, contestants for Little Miss Liberty and Little Uncle Sammy assumed center stage as Candy McCracken, Heart of Ohio USA Days festival committee representative, introduced each one to the audience. Vying for Little Uncle Sammy were Brendan Ferrell and Blake Johnson. Little Miss Liberty contestants included Savannah Billingsley, Julianna Bush, Jaclynn Moore, Liberty Posey and Taylor Scowden.
McCracken said the winners were chosen by popular vote. At one penny per vote, the group together raised more than $1,500, which will go toward fixing the gazebo, Interchurch Social Services and The Salvation Army. Blake Johnson, 6, is the 2009 Little Uncle Sammy and 4-year-old Julianna Bush is Little Miss Liberty.
The Motor City Cruisers warmed up the crowd for the appearance of main musical attraction, The Reflections, whose presence was largely made possible by The Laurels of Mount Vernon, McCracken said.
The Reflections concert was a trip down memory lane for many of the audience members, and included retrospective numbers with classic doo-wop harmony and rhythm.
“We’ve been performing since 1954,” said original Reflections vocalist Tony Micale, of himself and John Dean. “We just aren’t smart enough to stop.”
Many of the songs were tributes to songsters of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s: The Drifters, Platters, Jackie Wilson and Gene McDaniels, among others. The performance would not have been complete without the group’s signature song “(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet.”
Pat Wolf of Mount Vernon was enjoying the nostalgia of the concert with friends from Toledo.
“I love it. I just love that kind of music,” she said.
Although the Reflections were a little before his time, Ron Pankuch of Centerburg truly appreciates their music.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “This is a good concert.”
Pankuch also said he did, in a way, grow up listening to the Reflections, and wasn’t about to miss a live performance.
“My parents played it all the time — 24/7,” he said. “I love it. There’s no other better music out there. Not even today’s music.”
Elvis, aka Steve Mathias, kept the crowd tapping its collective toes between Reflections sets, and Jim and Kathy Butler were the top bidders on a Washburn guitar autographed by Tony, John, Gary, Joey and Sal.
Don McCracken, Heart of Ohio USA Days festival committee president, said he was pleased to see attendance at the festival picking up. Wednesday’s numbers were better than expected, he said, but Thursday’s deluge discouraged visitors. Friday’s crowd was good, and he expects today’s attendance for the parade and fireworks to be even better.
Tonight’s fireworks display will be launched from the hill located east of the festival parking area. Spectator seating spots will be available on the hill across from the water tower.