Arts & CultureArts & Culture Features

Athens Celebrates the Fourth on the First

As the Fourth of July approaches, Athens­ and the surrounding areas are gearing up to celebrate the holiday.

While it’s not technically on July 4, the Athens Downtown Development Authority is putting on an Independence Day festival on Friday, July 1. After Georgia Square Mall announced that it would not be having fireworks this year after hosting events the previous two years, the ADDA stepped up to the plate to put on a public festival for the holiday. However, by the time of the mall’s announcement, all fireworks companies were booked up for the Fourth itself.

“We became aware that the mall was not doing it this year. It used to be at Bishop Park, and then the mall had it, and then this year there wasn’t going to be a fireworks festival in Athens proper,” ADDA Marketing Coordinator Elise LeQuire says. “We wanted to try and pull something together for our downtown businesses, but also everybody in Athens and the surrounding areas.”

The downtown event will include a street festival as well as fireworks. “There will be a children’s area with a bouncy house, face painting and some little American flag giveaways. There will be arts and crafts vendors, as well as food vendors,” LeQuire says.

In addition, the festival will feature live music from R&B band Dwight Wilson and Classic City Soul. Foundry Entertainment President Troy Aubrey assisted in booking the band.

“Dwight Wilson and Classic City Soul are a really great act that explores the best soul, R&B and Motown song hits of the ’60s and ’70s,” Aubrey says. “Be sure to wear your dancing shoes, as you will be compelled to dance during their pre-­fireworks street party.”

The festival has been made possible by the following sponsors: Blasingame, Burch, Garrard, and Ashley, P.C.; Landmark Properties; Mayor Nancy Denson (through her office’s discretionary fund); Terrapin Beer Co.; National Bank of Georgia; The Classic Center; Flagpole Magazine; and Pulaski Heights BBQ, in addition to the Athens-Clarke County government and the ADDA itself. The $85,000 celebration ran into overruns due to costs associated with insurance, permits and managing the expected 30,000-strong crowd, but at press time the ACC Commission had approved contributing $9,000 from an unspent tourism fund, and officials expected to receive additional corporate donations.

The fireworks will begin at 9:30 p.m. and will be launched off the top of the Classic Center parking deck. According to LeQuire, the location should provide high visibility throughout downtown.

“Really all of downtown, and probably a good deal of the parts of Athens that are close to downtown, should be able to see them, since that is such a high point,” LeQuire says.

The city of Madison, 25 miles south of Athens, will also celebrate on Friday, July 1 with its annual fireworks festival that kicks off with live music by the Classic City Band beginning at 7 p.m. The festival, at the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center on Main Street, also includes barbecue and a patriotic table-decorating contest.

“People from the community often have a favorite spot where they want to set up their table or blanket. They will begin showing up hours in advance to claim their spot on the lawn,” says JoAnna Hayes, development director for the center. “This is an annual event, and people have gotten to where they want to set up in the same location year after year so their friends can find them.”

According to Hayes, the event regularly attracts over 400 people from Madison and the surrounding areas. “Many of those folks have been attending the event for many years. It is always fun to see the out-of-town folks come home and visit the hometown crowd,” she says. “Everyone wears their red, white and blue and enjoys an old-fashioned picnic event.”

On Sunday July 3, the Classic City Band will also play an annual patriotic concert at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. The concert will be free and begins at 2 p.m.

Performing since 1976, the Classic City Band is the oldest civic band in Georgia and plays a variety of music, from pop and jazz standards to showtunes to opera and classical.