The Fourth of July in Hernando County has always been a make-what-you-can-of-it celebration for residents.
Unlike our urban neighbors to the south, dazzling, big-budget communitywide extravaganzas have never been our style.
That is, until last year, when the Brooksville Ministerial Association staged its inaugural Nature Coast Freedom Fest. Billed as a "family entertainment event," the event featured Christian bands, a fun zone for kids, food and beverage vendors, and, of course, a big fireworks show. According to the promoters, more than 15,000 people showed up.
However, Freedom Fest 2008 wasn't without its share of controversy. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and others complained that the decision by the county's Tourist Development Council to contribute $5,000 to help promote an event with religious overtones violated the separation of church and state.
Although the county still supports the event this year, the TDC has done its own advertisements to promote it, with no religious messages, absolving the county of any legal problems.
Joe Santerelli, senior pastor at Hillside Community Baptist Church and president of the Brooksville Ministerial Association, hopes this year's festival, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m. today at Florida Classic Park, will be less of a lightning rod.
"It's about celebrating our freedom and paying tribute to veterans," Santerelli said this week. "Our objective is to provide a family-friendly evening that everyone can enjoy."
With the addition of platinum-selling country artist Rodney Atkins to this year's event, Santerelli hopes to double this year's attendance. Atkins, who has five No. 1 hits to his credit, also has one of the most popular songs on the current country charts. Released late last year, It's America reached the top spot on the Billboard country charts in May.
Also appearing at the event will be Tampa singer Lindsay Taylor, Tennessee family Christian group the Birdsongs, and a speaker with WallBuilders, a national pro-family organization.
The fireworks show, scheduled to begin about 9:45 p.m., will be presented by Pyrotecnico of America.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.