Tens of thousands of people gathered Thursday evening at McConnell-Talbert Stadium in Warner Robins for the 32nd annual Independence Day Celebration.
Despite the 90-degree temperatures, many people arrived early to stake out a spot in front of the stage with lawn chairs, blankets, umbrellas and coolers.
Julie Reeves attends the event every year with her family. She said her 10-year-old has been coming his whole life. For Reeves, attending is a tradition that brings the community together to relax and enjoy the company of others.
“It’s Middle Georgia. We don’t have to travel far, we’re from the area and (it’s) cheap entertainment,” she said. “The price is right.”
Ken McCall, co-chair of Warner Robins Downtown Development Authority and one of the event organizers, said a good crowd showed up.
“All the main parking lots are filled and the overows are filling up, so people are coming in,” McCall said early in the evening. “We’re a military town. The Fourth of July is almost as big as Christmas for us.”
About 10 p.m., Warner Robins Police Chief Brett Evans estimated the crowd to be 20,000.
Ryan Heidle moved to Warner Robins 14 years ago from Indiana. It was his first time attending the event. “I tried last year, but it got canceled. I was really looking forward to it. I really wanted to go.”
James Sutton, 69, moved to Warner Robins in 1986. He has been to the event nearly every year. He said it is a tradition that he now shares with his grandchildren, who live in Atlanta and come to visit him every summer.
“It’s nice that we can get out and celebrate. We need to,” Sutton said.
Asked what the celebration means for Warner Robins, Mayor Randy Tom said that in previous years “the Air force, the base, the band of the Air Force Reserves told the community thank you. This (event) gives us the opportunity to tell them thank you. That’s what it means to me. It means so much because this city was built around our Air Force base, and for us to have the opportunity now, because of the budget cuts and all that ... you can’t really put a price on that.”
Thursday’s Independence Day Celebration was the the first since the Air Force had to back away from the event because of budget cuts. Last year’s event including the fireworks spectacular was canceled because of rain.
This year, though, was all good.
The event included a performance by the Southern rock band 38 Special, which was to be followed by the fireworks display.
The fireworks might have been what most folks expected to cap their evening, but others planned to take part in a 5K run set to start one minute after midnight.
“We’re going to be the rst (Fourth of July) 5K in Georgia, And we’re just going to continue to rock into the night,” McCall said.
What about next year? McCall said he hasn’t even thought about that yet. “We’re still putting out fires and making sure everything goes smoothly with this and so far it has been.”