By Michael Williams
Inclement weather did little to discourage patriotic revelers that descended on Patriot Park Saturday for the annual Fourth of July celebration. A gentle shower fell moments before the opening act took the stage at 1:30 p.m. Opening the festival was the cast of the Biblical Times Dinner Theater. The cast members included Rachel Barnes, Ashley Jenkins, Chris Seigler, Mary Courtney, Blaine Sumler and Ben Morelock sang several gospel selections that delighted the audience and set the tone for what promised to be an entertaining event.
Around the park numerous vendors, including the American Legion, the VFW and other charitable and civic organizations, sold snacks, hot dogs, hamburgers, cotton candy, ice cream, sodas and other treats to sate the hunger and thirst of the more than 40,000 attendees. Children engaged in activities such as face painting and playing on the playground equipment while parents sat comfortably in lawn chairs enjoying the music of Knoxville native Mae Beth Harris followed by Just BCuz of Bulls Gap. The Pigeon Forge Community Choir took the stage performing a medley of patriotic tunes.
Later in the afternoon, Departure took the stage to the delight of an enthusiastic crowd. Departure is a Journey tribute band which performed many of the hits of the ’70 and ’80s super group which included, “Oh, Sherry,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Open Arms,” “Who’s Cryin’ Now?” and other hits to the delight of the audience.
Next to take the stage was Academy of Country Music Award winning artists Diamond Rio. The country band, featuring lead singer Marty Roe, performed many of the hits that made the band a household name in the ’80s and ’90s, namely “Meet in the middle,” “One more day,” I Believe” and “Beautiful Mess.”
The afternoon of music and fun was punctuated with a few light showers but not enough to dampen the festive spirit of the fans. At 9:30 p.m. silence fell over the park as pyrotechnicians made the final preparations for a dazzling fireworks display. Within moments the night sky lit up as hundreds of fireworks streamed an array of colors across the sky exploding in the night air while choreographed with patriotic music.
“The day started out a little rocky but ended up a great,” said Butch Helton of the Pigeon Forge Office of Special Events. “This wasn’t the biggest crowd we’ve ever had but it was a great crowd considering the weather.”