Even with a heat index of 99 degrees, Manatee County’s July Fourth festivities drew people to both sides of the Manatee River on Monday night.
In Palmetto’s Sutton Park, pop-rock band Smash Mouth brought people from near and far to enjoy music, food, drink and fun.
“We’re No. 1 fans and we drove all the way from Sarasota,” said Hannah Riley, 17, who attended the show with her friend Brixton Yorker, 16. They both consider themselves big Smash Mouth fans, but they mostly attended the show to hear their favorite Smash Mouth hit “All Star.” It was the first time both Riley and Yorker attended Palmetto’s Fourth Fest.
“This was the best decision we’ve ever made,” Riley said. The two arrived at about 3:30 p.m. and claimed a spot close to the stage.
The festivities concluded with a spectacular fireworks show over the Manatee River.
Wyndi Biedermann, 52 and Jeff Carlton, 53, have known each other for 40 years. Before arriving at the festival, the two took their fishing boat out to the Sunshine Skyway bridge and back. Though they aren’t necessarily huge Smash Mouth fans, they both consider Palmetto home and wouldn’t spend the Fourth of July anywhere else.
“I moved away for 30 years and I had to come back to my roots,” said Biedermann, who grew up in Palmetto. “We live in paradise. We’ve got the bay, the river and the Gulf right at our fingertips.” Biedermann’s two sons were coming to meet her and Carlton to “celebrate our freedom as a country. It’s all about having a good time.”
Carlton, who grew up in Duette, also moved away but returned within four years.
“It’s always home,” he said. “This is my favorite holiday. I like it more than Christmas. It’s summer and it’s sunshine.”
Manatee County Commissioner Charles Smith was proud to see the park fill up with the community he represents. Smith helped start the Fourth Fest as a Palmetto city commissioner, he said, and he’s happy to see how it has grown.
“It’s always historical when you get the community to celebrate America,” Smith said. “The vendors make money, it gives kids something to do, it’s centrally located and it’s crime prevention, too. The mayor has taken the event and made it a whole day of celebration.”
The Palmetto Police Department had all hands on deck for the holiday, though Capt. Steve Greer said it was a fairly quiet day.
“We’re better safe than sorry,” Greer said. “It makes for a good night for us when we all sit around bored.”
On the other side of the Manatee River, the Bradenton Police Department followed similar protocol. Lt. J.S. Giddens said they also did not experience any significant events on Monday.
“We’ve got double the number of normal officers out,” Giddens said. “We coordinated with the Palmetto police, the (Manatee County) sheriff and we’ve also got our marine unit out.” Several people watch the fireworks show from their boats and Bradenton police’s marine unit must ensure they’re moored within a safe zone from the fireworks display.
Leo Trevino, 51, got a spot by the river on the Bradenton side with his wife Liz, 57, and daughter Lisa, 23. The family lives in Brandon but attended a church service in Bradenton on Monday.
“We just wanted to be near the water (for fireworks),” Leo Trevino said. He and his family have enjoyed Tampa’s river walk and said Bradenton’s is more accessible and family-friendly.
“This is bigger and you have the marina here,” Liz Trevino said.
“And the parking is an issue and restrooms are inconvenient in Tampa,” Leo Trevino chimed in. “This has more access to the community. In Tampa, it’s very commercial.”