Organizers of the 2014 International Cherry Blossom Festival could not have dreamed up a better opening day.
After months of cold weather, the temperature was a mild 64 degrees at Central City Park as the festival commenced at 11:30 a.m. Friday.
Even the Yoshino cherry trees at the park cooperated, with the first blossoms there finally emerging.
Its very exciting, said Jake Ferro, president and CEO of the festival. Everything is falling into place. There were some little details that became firestorms, but we put those out. Our team has jumped in with both feet. The weather has warmed everything up. I feel good.
U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., and Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert were among those who welcomed visitors to the park. Bishop and Carolyn Crayton, a festival founder, cut the ceremonial pink ribbon to start the event.
It is an honor and a privilege for me once again to be a part of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon, Ga., Bishop told the crowd earlier in the ceremony. You know, our nation celebrates the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. But I am proud to tell my colleagues in Washington that nowhere is the celebration of the Cherry Blossom Festival more prominent and more exciting than in Macon, Ga.
Bishop praised the international flavor of the festival and called Macon an exciting, growing community.
Reichert praised the efforts of the festival and Macon-Bibb County departments in getting things ready.
Love, beauty and international friendship are needed now more than ever, Reichert said. We are delighted to welcome the dignitaries from the featured countries that will be with us during the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Ferro noted that representatives of several major American festivals are attending this years festivities in Macon. The queens of the International Parade of Roses in Pasadena, Calif., the Minneapolis Aquatennial and St. Paul, Minn., Winter Carnival joined the Cherry Blossom royal court on stage.
Ferro said Japan, Taiwan, Great Britain and Germany are the featured countries this year, and Wesleyan College singers performed the anthems of each of those countries, as well as God Bless America.
Other countries that will take part in this years festival are Bulgaria, Ireland, Israel, the Philippines and the Ukraine.
Ferro said the delegation from the Philippines plans to have five floats, 10 convertibles and two marching groups in Sundays Cherry Blossom Parade.
Donnie Bryant, who was working the Old Style Foods booth Friday, said the Salisbury, N.C.-based food truck has been a part of the festival about 20 years.
I enjoy coming here because of the people and to see the trees bloom, he said. Theres just a lot of good people.
Many of those who attended Fridays opening events said theyve attended the festival in the past.
I was off (from work) today, and Ive never gotten to go to the opening ceremonies, said Michelle Waller of Macon, who added that she always looks forward to the parade. Thats one of the things that brought me out. Its such a pretty day, too.
Mike Grimes, who has just moved to Macon, and Allie Yancey, of Statesboro, said they were attending the festival for the first time.
Its bigger than I expected, Yancey said.
I just wanted to try it, Grimes said. Its opening day, and I wanted to take it all in.