Record crowd celebrates 35th annual Liberty Day

By WILLIAM MARLOW | Special to the Reporter

COLUMBIANA — Patriotic residents packed the streets of Columbiana June 25-26 to celebrate a special anniversary in the city

Wearing their red, white and blue, a record crowd came out to support the city’s 35th annual Liberty Day festival, which is held the last weekend of June each year.

This year’s festival was one of the city’s biggest to date, according to the event’s coordinator, Ali Payne. More than 12,000 people and approximately 140 vendors were present during the weekend’s celebration.

“This was the biggest Liberty Day celebration ever. The crowd just exceeded our expectations, and it was extra special just to have people out because so many haven’t been going to festivals or concerts. It was overall just a great weekend,” Payne said.

Payne said there was much anticipation surrounding the event due to most in-person events being either canceled or rescheduled in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city even solicited an additional 40 vendors in advance specifically for the event, mostly arts and craft as well as food vendors.

During the two-day event, attendees enjoyed everything from national-headlining musicians, to a parade and even fireworks.

“We worked really hard to make it bigger than it has been in the past, and we were all just excited to see the community out, especially coming out of a year of quarantine and COVID,” she said.

Festivities kicked off Friday evening with a music concert along Main Street, with performances from Cam Spinks of The Voice as well as The Shimmer Band.

On Saturday, attendees were greeted by a parade as well as another round of musical performances, this time featuring the bands Little Texas as well as The Red Clay Strays. The festival concluded Saturday night with a firework display at the Shelby County High School football stadium.

New additions this year included a second concert stage at Old Mill Square to accommodate an extensive musical line-up as well as a 5K and fun run. A cornhole tournament was held, while a car show exhibit was also on display during the event.

According to Payne, Liberty Day is one of the city’s longest-running traditions.

The holiday was first chartered in 1986 by then-President Ronald Reagan, and was initially held to commemorate the 100th birthday anniversary of the Statue of Liberty.

Columbiana’s Jim Strickland, the former mayor of the city, was instrumental in starting the program. Thanks to his encouragement, the city jumped on board with Reagan’s suggestion and celebrated by closing the streets and having a parade down Main Street, a signing on the courthouse lawn and a fireworks show.

That first year was so successful, that it became an annual event. Strickland served as the Grand Marshal for this year’s event. 

“This past weekend was one of the best Liberty Days we’ve ever had. The only way that I could describe it is that I am just in awe about how much it has grown over the past 35 years,” he said. “I have just always been very civic oriented ,and Columbiana is a very unique little community. I’m really proud of what we’ve become.” 

Since then, Liberty Day has become a staple event for Columbiana, culminating every year during the last weekend in June.

According to Strickland, Liberty Day was initially planned as a one-time event, but said the residents loved the experience so much that the city has continued to host the celebration year after year. Strickland attributed the its popularity to Columbiana’s hometown spirit, which he says many people enjoy. 

“Columbiana has always had that good hometown feeling that I think people just don’t want to lose, and some folks that have moved away even kind of miss it and are starting to come back,” he said.  

This year’s celebration was especially significant for Strickland as the city honored his decades of service by making him the parade’s Grand Marshall.  

“I was both flattered and humbled because I couldn’t believe that people still remembered that I helped get it started,” he said. “So, I had a wonderful weekend. It was wonderful for me to just see that people are still enjoying what we set up 35 years ago.

According to Payne, not every city celebrates Liberty Day, which she says makes Columbiana unique in that regard.

“Liberty Day is a really special thing for Columbiana and Shelby County. It is definitely something that the city plans to celebrate for a long time,” she said.

Payne said that the city has already begun planning another big year at next year’s festival.