PALMETTO -- Something about a sunny sky on the Fourth of July seems to make everything turn out just fine.
At the fifth-annual Palmetto Fourth Festival at Sutton Park on Saturday, U.S. flags were waving in the breeze, the crowd found plenty of shade for setting up lawn chairs and the bands had a good time playing something country.
Plus, with beer sales being allowed for the first time at the event, some attendees had extra reason to show up early and stay late.
"We're here to see the concert, hang out with friends and drinks some beer," said Orie Donnelly, who attended the concert and festival with fellow Bradenton resident Nate Bois.
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Expected to draw as many as 10,000 attendees, the event was billed by or
ganizers as having the highest profile of any concert put on in the city. The Palmetto Central Redevelopment Agency spent about $100,000 to bring in country stars Rodney Atkins and Craig Campbell for nearly four hours of live country performances.
The crowd built slowly through the first three hours of the event and Campbell's act, but a crush of spectators began filling the park quickly as Atkin's opening set approached. CRA Director Jeff Burton said he believed the crowd would eclipse last year's event attendance when the show was headlined by "American Idol" star Scotty McCreery.
"This is our fifth Fourth (of July) festival and every year it seems like they get better and better and better," he said.
The event started about an hour after gates opened when Campbell and his band set the tone by opening with the crowd pleaser "Play Something Country." The band did a one-hour set in heat Campbell described as the hottest concert he's ever played. Temperatures peaked around 90 degrees.
While plenty of people were at Sutton Park to hear music, others were there to see and be seen. Groups of teenagers, many decked out in red, white and blue, congregated throughout the park for what was for many their first big get-together since school let out in June.
Ashley Price of Palmetto and Farrah Fletcher of Parrish, both 14, got to the event soon after it opened at 4 p.m. They set up lawn chairs in the shade off to the side of the stage to wait for other friends to show up. They said they come to the celebration every year.
"The best thing we have to do today is listen to the singers, and have fun with friends and family," Fletcher said.
The all-ages event was decidedly not just for teens, families and children. Sixty-eight year old Beverly Taylor made the trek over from Bradenton to not only be part of the crowd, but to treat herself to some new experiences. She made a point to get an airbrush tattoo on her arm.
"I've never done it before," she said. "I thought I'd try something exciting for a change," Taylor said.
In addition to being the first Fourth Festival to feature beer, this year's event was also the first to charge admission. Attendees were charged $5 each, which was approved 3-2 by the Palmetto City Council last month. At the time, Burton said the fee was intended to offset part of the expense the CRA laid out for the high-profile concert.
Atkins came to Palmetto with a solid chart-topping pedigree. He's notched six No. 1 country hits off his first three albums. Campbell has charted on six singles as well, making it as high as No. 14 with his song "Family Man."
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.