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BIG BOOM
CELEBRATION MARKS AREA'S EMERGENCE FROM WINTER FREEZE

When Punxsutawney Phil retreated from his home on Groundhog Day two months ago, his unofficial declaration that we'd endure six more weeks of winter wasn't a far cry from the truth.

But Phil surely had no clue Western New York -- infamous, of course, for our occasionally brutal winters -- would bounce into spring with such a hearty leap.

Boom Days, taking place this weekend across Buffalo Niagara, kicks off what some locals consider the official start of spring. Based on the removal of the Niagara River ice boom, a system of steel cylinders that prevents ice buildup in the river's hydroelectric power intakes, the three-day event has as much to do with the area's waterfront landmarks as it does the buds on the trees. (The ice boom, however, will not be removed this week.)

"It's the water, one of our greatest assets, that really connects us all," says Boom Days chairman Rick Smith, a local entrepreneur who along with fellow area businesspeople established the event two years ago.

"Buffalo architect Clint Brown and I wanted to create a grass-roots event that would thank our strong winter and celebrate our waterfront heritage with a unique first rite of spring," says Smith. "We have so many natural and cultural assets that we tend to take for granted."

Among those assets are the region's four historic forts. Kicking off Boom Days at 4 p.m. today with a bang, cannon will be fired from Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown and Fort Erie in Ontario in conversational response.

"If the weather and the winds are right, you'll be able to hear the shots from both sides," says Smith. "Peaceful neighbors greeting each other across the river."

Smith adds he hopes to include Fort Porter in Buffalo and Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in the coming years.

Also on the schedule for today's launch is the annual party at the Festival Grounds at the Pier. Jeff Elliott, known for his summertime jams, welcomes the event with a 6 p.m. concert tonight, followed by a reading by legendary beat poet Janine Pommy Vega, who will also announce the winners of the Just Buffalo Literary Center Poetry Contest. Fireworks and more music will cap off the evening at the Pier.

Saturday's events include an open house at the CPO Club on Porter Avenue from 4 to 11 p.m., with music, food, Navy memorabilia, historical exhibits and family fun. The LaSalle Yacht Club of Niagara Falls will host music by Lance Drake, Creative Spirit Band, Evergreen, John Marohn, Howard Gladstone and the Rainbow Singers. The evening, with dinner and cash bar, takes place from 6 to 11 p.m.

A dinner theater is planned at Lockport Canalside at 6:30 p.m. Tickets to "Doctor, You're Trying My Patients" are $29, including a buffet dinner, show, tax and gratuity.

And capping off Boom Days with some warm weather fare is a celebration at the Water Street Landing in Lewiston. Beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday, there will be a "clam slam" and live music including Willie and the Reinhardts and the Mick Hayes Band.

The schedule
Today:

4 p.m.: Old Fort Niagara cannon fires.

4:15 p.m.: Old Fort Erie cannon answers.

5 p.m.: Antique lake freighter whistle blows.

5:30 p.m.: The world's oldest fireboat, the E.M. Cotter, journeys out to the ice boom to drop 7-foot red ball to signify first rite of spring.

6 p.m.: Jeff Elliott and Music of the Summer

6:30 p.m.: Beat poet Janine Pommy Vega presents a reading of her own work and introduces winners of the Just Buffalo Literary Center Poetry Contest. Winners recite their poems.

8 p.m.: Fireworks

10:30 p.m. to midnight: More music

Saturday:

4 to 11 p.m.: Open house at CPO Club, 5 Porter Ave. Music, food, beverages and family fun. Military and naval memorabilia, historical exhibits, billiards, ping-pong. View of Lake Erie as the ice flows down the Niagara River.

6 to 10 p.m.: Open house at LaSalle Yacht Club, 73 S. 68th St., Niagara Falls. Live music by Lance Drake, Creative Spirit Band, Evergreen, John Marohn, Howard Gladstone and the Rainbow Singers.

6:30 p.m.: "Doctor, You're Trying My Patients," dinner theater at Lockport Canalside, 210 Market St., Lockport.

Sunday:

1 to 8 p.m.: Live music by Willie and the Reinhardts and the Mick Hayes Band at the Water Street Landing, 115 S. Water St., Lewiston.

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