It’s not that anybody was dissing the Patriots Jet Team, with their aerobatics and colorful smoke plumes. But they just weren’t the Blue Angels.
“We’re spoiled,” said Kelly McGrath, of Auburn, a lifelong resident of the Puget Sound area and a Seafair devotee who attended the annual summer celebration Saturday on Lake Washington.
The boat races, the pirates, the music and the other draws are fun, she said, but for her, the Angels were always at least half the show.
“People just really like things that are loud and go fast,” said Seattle police Officer A.C. Torrescano, who has worked the festival weekend off and on over the last 30 years.
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The U.S. military has been an integral part of Seafair for most of the festival’s 60-plus-year history, according to Seafair spokeswoman Melissa Jurcan.
In addition to performances by the Blue Angels, the Navy would tie up a number of ships at Seattle-area piers, giving citizens a rare chance to tour the commissioned vessels. But federal budget constraints this year caused the military to pull out of Seafair and similar events around the country.
Seattle police estimated Saturday’s crowd was down at least 50 percent over years past. Seafair officials confirmed that, saying there had been approximately 50,000 attendees by Saturday evening, compared with 95,000 at the same time last year.
Jurcan said Friday’s rainy weather likely played a role in the attendance Friday and Saturday, but that organizers expect more people to come out Sunday for the championship hydroplane boating events.
Saturday morning was overcast before temperatures reached a high of 73 degrees in the afternoon, said meteorologist Art Gaebel, predicting Sunday’s weather would be similar although potentially slightly warmer in the afternoon.
None of that mattered much to McGrath and her fiancé, George Bigsby III, who said light rain, drizzle and overcast skies would never stop a true Seattleite from anything.
“I’ve been here when it’s pouring rain and the place was crawling with people,” said McGrath. “No, we love the rain like it’s sunshine. If it gets too hot, we want rain.”
Gary Stone, who was on shore with his newborn son and the rest of his family, said in years past he’s usually watched the Seafair events from a boat.
The hydro races are cool, he said, but there was nothing like being out on the water and watching the Blue Angels perform.
“They’d swoop down so close, you could see who was driving,” Stone said.
But not everyone was disappointed.
Rob Cizek, who watched the Patriots perform from the Interstate 90 bridge Friday, said that as a member of a military family he wasn’t pleased the sequester had cut one of the Navy’s biggest recruitment tools, but he didn’t see a major difference in performance between the two flight groups.
“It’s definitely nice when the Blue Angels come over,” he said, making a “vrooooooom” sound and gesturing with his hand. “But these guys are fine. Their maneuvers and everything — they’re very comparable.”
Alex Decaro, 14, who watched from the bridge Friday as well, said the biggest difference to him was the noise levels.
His brother Anthony said that was a plus. “I hated how loud they were,” he said of the Blue Angels.
The decreased volume was also a bonus for Julie Farwell, of Bellevue, who attended the event Saturday with her husband, Seahawk player Heath Farwell, and their toddler and 3-week-old baby.
“I don’t know if I could have brought him if it were louder,” she said of the newborn.
Julie Farwell had never been to Seafair before and hadn’t seen the Blue Angels, but, she said of the Patriots: “These guys are pretty impressive. I don’t see how you could be disappointed.”
Christine Clarridge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8983.