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Leaders: Suwanee Day stronger than ever

Cub Scout Joshua Carpinello, 6, of Suwanee, takes a huge slap shot at a hockey goal net as Suwanee Day is celebrated at Town Center Park in Suwanee on Saturday.

Cub Scout Joshua Carpinello, 6, of Suwanee, takes a huge slap shot at a hockey goal net as Suwanee Day is celebrated at Town Center Park in Suwanee on Saturday.

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A large soap bubble created by Robin "Bubble Man" Booth floats over children as Suwanee Day is celebrated at Town Center Park in Suwanee on Saturday.

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Max Ray, 6, of Alpharetta, center left, and Jay Hunter, center right, play in a water fountain as Suwanee Day is celebrated at Town Center Park in Suwanee on Saturday.

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Chandler Perry, 5, of Suwanee, climbs a rock wall simulator as Suwanee Day is celebrated at Town Center Park in Suwanee on Saturday.

SUWANEE -- By 10 a.m., a break-dancing competition had broken out. Aromas disparate as fresh fudge, kettle corn and Greek lamb kabobs swirled. And thousands thronged a sunny lawn.

On its signature day, Suwanee made no haste in getting the party started.

The civic brouhaha that is Suwanee Day began in May 1984, when about 75 people coalesced on Buford Highway near a stop sign. Suwanee's first traffic signal wouldn't be installed until the following year.

Roughly that many people queued Saturday morning to glad-hand with reigning Miss Georgia, Leighton Jordan, and Olympic swimmer Amanda Weir. The Suwanee residents smiled for iPhone photos and autographed everything handed to them. Weir bedazzled kids (and fathers) when she allowed them to hold her weighty bronze hardware from London.

"There's nothing like this (festival) in Adairsville," said Jim Lee, who'd trekked from the northeast Georgia city with his wife to hang with their 5-year-old granddaughter, who lives nearby.

The 29th incarnation of Suwanee Day was expected to break last year's attendance record of 50,000, with '80s hit-makers The Smithereens and a fireworks show wrapping the night. Volunteer ranks have swelled since the early days to 266, and the number of vendor booths to a record 225, said Suwanee events manager Amy Doherty.

"We start game-planning in October," said Doherty. "We work the whole year to make the next year better."

The festival has seen challenges. After a string of rain-soaked celebrations, its date was moved in 1990 from May to September. And in 2001, just four days after the terrorist attacks of that September, leaders grudgingly decided to move forward despite the nation's mourning.

It worked. A then-record 10,000 came out.

By 11 a.m., festival-goers were log-jamming vendor aisles. The shaded "man cave," replete with couches and different games on three televisions, was starting to populate. The wand-waving "Bubble Man" enchanted children near the stage.

Gasped one woman: "That's the biggest bubble I've ever seen!"