July 1, 2013 8:21:46 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
An extraordinary fireworks show, a rousing wind symphony concert and feel-good blues from an award-winning artist add up to Fireworks on the Water -- a free Fourth of July extravaganza in Columbus organizers hope will be memory-making for everyone who attends.
The Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau and Columbus Air Force Base partner with additional sponsors to present the celebration Thursday, July 4, at the East Bank of the John C. Stennis Lock and Dam.
Gates to the site at the end of Wilkins-Wise Road off Highway 45 North will open at 4 p.m. for children's activities. Past International Blues Challenge winner Grady Champion takes the stage from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m., followed at about 8 p.m. by the 23-member Starkville-MSU Wind Symphony Orchestra. The fireworks display, synchronized to recorded music, will start near 9 p.m. At the show's conclusion, the orchestra will return to the stage to play as the crowd disperses.
"This is going to be a fabulous event," said Nancy Carpenter, executive director of the CVB. "Grady Champion is the ultimate showman, and if you want to be moved, then enjoy singing 'God Bless America' with thousands of other people when the Starkville-MSU Wind Symphony leads the crowd in an engaging sing-along."
Fireworks on the Water is a collaboration between not only the CVB and the Columbus Air Force Base 14th Flying Training Wing, but also the Air Force Association, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, City of Columbus, Lowndes County, Golden Triangle Regional Airport and St. Leo University. Additional corporate and individual sponsors also helped make the festivities possible.
Event chair and CAFB Public Affairs Chief Rick "Sonic" Johnson is tending to a host of details as Independence Day draws near.
"We're really proud of the fact that, through the community's support, we're providing a free blues concert, a wind symphony orchestra and fireworks," he said. "And we're working diligently to make it a safe, secure and fun evening for all our folks."
Red, white and blues
The first time Carpenter saw Grady Champion perform, she knew Columbus needed to invite him to town. Since winning the 2010 IBC and garnering Blues Music Award nominations, the 43-year-old Champion has sold out venues and packed festivals throughout this country and in Europe.
The Canton native and master harmonica player -- he plays piano and guitar, too -- has recorded seven albums. In March, he represented the state at the renowned South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. The business- and tech-savvy father of four known for electrifying crowds can usually be found hunting or gardening when he's not writing, producing or touring to share the Mississippi blues.
Stars and stripes
Dr. Michael Brown, head of the Mississippi State Department of Music and conductor of the wind orchestra, is enthusiastic about the group's first Fourth of July concert in his 11-year tenure at the helm. He's designed a patriotic, upbeat repertoire.
Audiences in lawn chairs and on blankets on the east bank of the Lock and Dam, in boats on the water, and parked on the west bank will hear a selection of marches and standards like "Stars and Stripes Forever," "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Bugler's Holiday," as well as compositions such as "The Blue and the Gray."
Vocalist Dr. Tara Warfield of MSU will lead the audience in singing. A bit of Broadway and Dixieland jazz round out the stirring program.
"And after the fireworks are over, we'll play some traveling music as people leave," Brown affirmed. "We're just very excited to be part of the celebration. We're really hoping to be more actively engaged in the Columbus community; people have been awful nice to us over there, and maybe this can be a little bit of payback."
Food on the Fourth
Vendors on site will offer a wide variety of food and beverages beginning at 4 p.m.
"Hamburgers, turkey legs, barbecue, funnel cakes, snow cones, Italian ice ... we've worked hard to be sure there's a good selection," said Johnson, who encouraged families to come early to pick out their spot.
Children's activities will be overseen by members of the Columbus Police Department, Carpenter noted, adding that all pets should be left at home.
"We certainly want to thank Col. Jim Sears, commander of the 14th Flying Training Wing, the men and women of Columbus Air Force Base and all our sponsors for helping make this free event for the public possible," said Carpenter. She added high praise for hard-working committee members from the community.
Noting that the evening's format is similar to major celebrations staged in much larger cities, Johnson remarked, "It's an exciting thing for me -- we think we've put together a very memorable event to honor our nation's birthday.
It's not too late to make a contribution to Fireworks on the Water, which is being presented through the auspices of the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization. To learn more about sponsor levels and amenities, contact the CVB at 662-329-1191.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.