The F/A-18 Hornets were the life of the garden party - in fact, one party after another enlivened an entire waterfront block.
In the plush Ferry Farms neighborhood, just across the Severn River from the Naval Academy, hundreds of spectators were invited to watch the annual performance of the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy's precision flying team.
The aerial performance is a Commissioning Week ritual, followed by the flyover today at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium as a supersonic sendoff to the 980 graduating midshipmen.
Adults and children played hooky from work and school on Wednesday afternoon for what has become a holiday of sorts in Annapolis.
They gathered on rooftops, atop the county courthouse and even on the deck of the State House dome. They stood in the middle of deserted downtown streets and on the grass near the Naval Academy Bridge. And, of course, they picnicked at parties with excellent viewing to gaze heavenward to see the six-plane squadron fly high and low over the horizon.
Out on the water, those anchored on hundreds of sailboats bobbed on the gentle surface and prepared to party on in pristine weather conditions.
"It's an unofficial holiday in Annapolis," said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, who attended one of the Ferry Farms parties. "Since it was such a nice day, more people took a partial holiday. Last year, because it was cloudy, [the jets] came late and left early."
Tom and Julie Ward of Ferry Farms brought together generations of families and old friends for their annual Blue Angels party.
Many said they never miss watching the daredevil antics from that riverbank real estate.
"To see our children and now their children here is what is so special," said Julie Ward.
For some partygoers, the ear-splitting formations overhead inspired patriotism.
"It makes you feel like a strong American when you see those jets thundering down the bay," said Albert Grimes, president of an engine company.
"It makes you glad you're not an Iraqi right about now," R. Chris Rosenthal, director of an accounting company, said as four Blue Angels seemed to skim the treetops nearby.
A Navy bus sitting on the academy bridge, he pointed out, was there to give the flyers a marker.
But all in all, Rosenthal said, "It's more of an Annapolis thing than an academy thing,"
A community event
Navy Cmdr. Rod Gibbons, an academy spokesman, said he was glad the performance drew such a warm reaction from the state capital populace.
"This is for the community, as well," he said. "And hopefully they take away some of the story of Navy and Marine Corps pilots who raise these flight maneuvers to a level of perfection."
A Ward guest, Lynda Ells, a yoga and water aerobics instructor at Anne Arundel Community College, said: "It was magnificent and exhilarating. ... I've never truly experienced it, and I had to do this before I die."
The Angels' precise arcs and flips against a perfect blue canopy interrupted conversation and consumption of mushroom risotto, penne pasta with fresh pesto, a bite-size wrap of prosciutto and goat cheese, salmon dusted with dill, and tender roast beef, all washed down with chilled white wine.
Francesco Ricchi, owner of the Bethesda restaurant Cesco's, prepared the feast, which was topped off with espresso-loaded tiramisu on offer in a lavender room open to the outdoors.
On the sloping lawn, Erin Brimhall, a 33-year-old dermatologist, took the afternoon off work to attend.
"This party has always been a crowded thing," she said. "When I went to St. Mary's School, the whole school would come to the Ward house to watch."
Regarding son Will, 3, playing nearby, she said, "He's not scared. He just covers his ears."
A perfect day
While St. Mary's School in Annapolis closed at noon Wednesday, eight high-schoolers at the private Severn School did not have the same liberty. But they took the day off anyway.
They sat in a field in Ferry Farms, talking and listening to loud music in their T-shirts and shorts after the Blue Angels had come and gone.
It was, as they say in these parts, a fine Navy day.
The Naval Academy will hold commencement exercises today at 10 a.m. at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Drivers using Rowe Boulevard, Farragut Road and Taylor Avenue can expect to face traffic backups much of the morning.
Only people with tickets will be admitted to the graduation and commissioning ceremony, featuring Vice President Dick Cheney as the keynote speaker.
But for others interested in the event, it will be broadcast from 8:45 a.m. to noon on TV Channel 73 in Southern Anne Arundel County and Annapolis and on Channel 79 in Northern Anne Arundel County.
WNAV, 1430 AM, will broadcast the ceremony live on the radio from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.