Rain fails to dampen spirits at Columbiana’s Liberty Day Festival

Published 1:34 pm Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – Despite looming clouds and intermittent downpours, the weather didn’t stand a chance against the excitement and community spirit that was on display as Columbiana celebrated its 38th annual Liberty Day Festival last weekend.

With an introductory event and musical performances from Uri and The Shimmer Band kicking off the festival on the evening of Friday, June 28, energized festival goers arrived in large numbers on the morning of Saturday, June 29 prepared for a long day of fun and fellowship.

Beginning at 8 a.m., crowds gathered in Old Mill Square Park as the city opened its third annual rendition of the Liberty Day 5k to the tune of 233 runners, which amounted to an approximate increase of 100 more participants than last year’s event.

That increase in attendance was also evident in the early morning, with the presence of vendors that lined both sides of Main Street and areas around Old Mill Square and the Shelby County Arts Council. Along with inflatables for children and stages prepped for band performances throughout the day and night, the day was set to be among the most attended renditions in the festival’s history—until the rain showers started.

“We watched the weather very closely all day,” said Ali Payne, manager of community affairs and senior services in Columbiana. “We knew going into the day that there would be rain and we feel very fortunate that we didn’t get any lightning.”

The first few showers of the day began to take an early toll on the number of vendors, with some beginning to pack up out of concerns of preserving and protecting their inventory from the weather. That process was all but assured by the worst downpour of the day, which hit at around noon and caused most to throw-in dampened towels.

While this might have spelled doom for most community festivals, Liberty Day persevered, the car show pressed on and the music kept playing—all drawing crowds back outside despite the humidity.

“The crowd surged during dry moments and retreated during the rain,” Payne said. “Overall it was a great day. We were delayed a little after the heavy downpour that started around noon but we were able to rally and Winston Ramble, who was scheduled to perform at 1:45 p.m., went on at 2 p.m. That happened due to the diligence of Big Friendly (the production team) and our staff and volunteers, who literally mopped stages to ensure the show could go on.”

For some, the rain may have even improved the setting as children played unimpeded and went down purposeful water slides and other inflatables transformed into temporary water features of their own.

“There was a moment on Saturday when it was literally pouring and I stood under the porch at Old Mill Square and watched as kids played in the rain,” Payne said. “I was disappointed and worried and I looked at a kid standing beside me and said, ‘I’m sorry it’s raining’ and he looked at me like I was crazy and said ‘Why, this is so much fun’ before he ran into the rain and slid on his belly through the wet grass. I am grateful for the reminder that perspective is everything.  And that some wonderful memories were made on Saturday, even in the rain.”

Payne continued to say that for a great deal of people, Liberty Day has become as much of a holiday as Thanksgiving or Halloween.

“It’s a staple,” Payne said. “I know many years ago (my family) went on vacation and missed Liberty Day. My kids were shocked when the town we visited didn’t celebrate Liberty Day.  They genuinely thought it was a holiday celebrated by everyone. And it truly is a wonderful celebration that fosters such a wonderful feeling of community spirit. The city has prioritized Liberty Day because it means so much to people.”

By the time of the parade at 3 p.m., the crowd had already begun to recover a great deal and turnout continued to improve as the day went on by the time of the later evening performances, crowds were equivalent to years past and fun could be heard at high volumes.

As the evening drew to a close, Kashus Culpepper took to the stage at the Shelby County High School Stadium Stage and performed from 6-7:30 p.m. before handing the crowd over to headliner Drake White. White then entertained the collected crowd until it was time for the festival’s grand and explosive finale at 9:30 p.m.

“The fireworks show lasted about 20 minutes,” Payne said. “It was a longer show than we usually have and featured some patriotic colored fireworks.  It was a beautiful display and the red, white and blue was a nice end to the day.”