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Friendship Festival '90 kicked off a six-day celebration of Canadian-American harmony with a program of food, fun and musical entertainment Friday evening at LaSalle Park.

Police estimated 75,000 people turned out to see pop singer Natalie Cole and to sample summer culinary fare.

Organizers had feared that the afternoon's rain might discourage people from attending the evening festivities in the park.

But with the clearing late in the afternoon, a steady stream of arrivals began about 7 p.m. for the Cole show, which started about 9 at the Performing Arts Pavilion.

The festival featured a food court for the first time since it started in 1987. Despite the long lines, most said the wait was worth it.

"I think the food was a great idea," said Tom Pinckney of Buffalo. "It's amazing the way people here have turned out for this. It's just great."

Another first for the festival was a beer-and-wine tent. Patrons were allowed to drink only within a fenced area in front of the tent.

Police reported no problems more serious than a few lost and recovered children.

"This is the first year for the beer tent, and people are staying in a fenced-in area and are not giving us any problems," said Capt. James Degenhart of the Buffalo Police Department.

The festival features another first -- a special Can-Am shuttle service, which began runs at 6 p.m. Friday from Fort Erie to downtown Buffalo. However, festival spokeswoman Karen L. Wodarczak said there were only "a scattering of people" on the shuttle.

To ease traffic congestion, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority also set up a shuttle bus to take riders to LaSalle Park from various streets including Chippewa, Ellicott, Church/South Division, Pearl, Niagara Square and Niagara Street. Fares are $1.10 for adults and 50 cents for senior citizens and children 12 and under. Transfers from Metro Bus or Rail to the shuttle may be made without charge.

The Canadian shuttle will pick up passengers in Buffalo at the stone shelter at Front Park on Porter Avenue. Hours are 6 to 11 p.m. today and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Rides are free to all persons wearing an official festival button, available for $2 at area Tops markets and Norstar Bank branches, as well as at the festival.

In Fort Erie, the shuttle will drop riders at the Mather Arch, the site of many festival events today and Sunday.

The shuttle will resume operation Wednesday from 6 to 11 p.m.

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