There’s no grand and elegant way to put it: Apalachicola busted a move at its third annual July 3 Independence Day celebration like nobody’s business.
The party on the day preceding the day 238 years ago when the Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 revolutionaries, was by far bigger than and as good as ever, climaxing in an electrifying fireworks display that shimmered over the river.
Sponsored by Apalachicola Main Street, in partnership with the city, the event expanded the two previous years with an all-day affair that may have brought as many as 7,000 people downtown, according to law enforcement crowd estimates.
“From the hump of the bridge back to Eastpoint, both sides of the road were completely blocked,” said Main Street Chairman Jim Bachrach. “It was crazy, man.”
Beginning at noon, a whole afternoon earlier than typically the case, Riverfront Park was alive with food – firecracker shrimp, lo country boil, freedom fries and hotdogs. And to drink the crowd enjoyed the commercial variety as well as the new locally-brewed Oyster City beer.
“We got a great deal on their blonde and brown, and all the revenue went to Main Street,” said Bachrach. “The hit was the firecracker shrimp, that was awesome. We had rave reviews about that.”
Plus there was plenty of fun as the festivities got underway. Five bands took the stage, and Project Impact offered lots of children’s’ activities, face painting, games, “and beads and a lot of free kid stuff handed out,” said Bachrach
He said the early start showed some promise, better than expected, but it will be up to planners for next year whether to pare back the hours to later in the afternoon.
“The real guts of this thing happened from 4 to 11 p.m.,” he said. “Noon to 4 p.m. didn’t come close.”
At about 6 p.m., the parade gathering at Lafayette Park signaled that this year would be the biggest to date.
“There was a long line of golf carts and it went on and on, at least 60 motorized somethings,” said Bachrach.
Presiding over the festivities were Roy and Marjorie Solomon as Lady Liberty and Uncle Sam.
As the parade wound its way downtown, the 70 volunteers, with help from city staff, continued their efforts as the crowd swelled.
“All the work was done by volunteers, many were restaurant owners and workers and stuff like that,” Bachrach said.
Following the parade, the crowd enjoyed scooped vanilla ice cream, kept intact in a freezer at the Apalachicola Center for History, Culture and the Arts, Mayor Van Johnson welcomed the gathering, as the first hint of dusk began to settle on the festivities. The silent auction all afternoon led to a live auction conducted by Harry Arnold and Chuck Spicer, and that brought in additional monies.
As a lead-in to the fireworks, Tobacco Rd. offered their brand of electrified country, and the Hillside Choir, led by Pastor Horace Solomon with solos by Maxine Kellogg, presented gospel music to an appreciative crowd. Charles Elliott, the county’s veterans service officer, offered remarks as a salute to those who have fought to secure the nation’s freedoms, and Debi Fletcher sang an electrifying version of the Star-Spangled Banner,
For the third year in a row, the fireworks were done by Pyro-Shows out of Tennessee. “They’ve been so wonderful for us,” said Bachrach. “It’s been bigger every year. We’ve increased the number of fireworks and we’ll continue to that.”
Donations from sponsors, augmented by the proceeds from food and beer sales, more than covered the $15,000 price tag for the show.
The 18-minute fireworks show, from 9:18 to 9:36 p.m. took a lot of advance preparation by local pyrotechnic wizard Mike Cates and his crew, by loading a bunker on the barge with all the combustibles, and configuring all the wiring and the electronics.
“It takes two days to get all the stuff built on the barge,” which was donated by Bill Grimes, and moved into place by Tommy Ward’s crew, said Bachrach.
After securing the required approval from both Homeland Security and the Coast Guard, event organizers made sure the explosives were under the watch of law enforcement personnel, he said.
Following the fireworks, a rare traffic jam gripped the downtown, as traffic slowly made its way back to accommodations in Apalachicola, St. George Island, Eastpoint and Carrabelle.
By about 1 a.m., the clean-up crew finally called it quits, Bachrach said.
“We were wore out but we’re incredibly pleased at the turnout,” he said. “The volunteers make this happen and it's a cross-section of this community. It’s not a small group, but from all walks of life, all organizations in town. Every organization in this city had someone working.”
As plans begin for next year’s celebration, event organizers plan to examine what worked well, or didn’t, this year. There may be some changes, but one thing that will remain the same is that the city’s salute to the nation’s birthday will remain on July 3, possibly renamed Independence Eve Celebration or something similar, Bachrach said.
Organizers believe that ever since the city began its July 3 tradition a few years ago, it’s worked well, giving locals and visitors alike a chance to get their holiday celebration started while preventing any clashes with other festive family fun on July 4 itself.
“It’s turned out to be the luckiest, smartest move we’ve ever made,” Bachrach said.