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Sarasota Tuesday, Jun. 26, 2018 1 year ago

Setting up to Go Fourth is no easy task

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Preparation for Independence Day activities can take weeks and months.
by: Cassidy Alexander Staff Writer

Independence Day seems to emerge, unexpected, from a haze of melting popsicles and sparkler smoke each year. Before you know it, you’re digging through your closet for your most patriotic garb to show your American spirit at the festivities you’re attending July 4 with friends and family.

But for those celebrations that make the Fourth of July what it is — the parades, the fireworks shows, the performances — it takes weeks, months, sometimes a whole year preparation.

“It seems like it just happens,” said Gail Loefgren, the woman behind the curtain of the Longboat Key Freedom Fest.

The self-proclaimed “shortest parade in America” goes on for about a quarter-mile, but ends in a celebration at Bicentennial Park complete with games for kids, sweet treats and a dog costume contest.

As the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce president, Loefgren pretty much single-handedly plans the parade and celebration. Everything from finding people to walk in the parade and choosing a grand marshal, to picking the games for the festival and securing permits.

She’s quick to point out all the help she has along the way — “it takes a village” — but she has been spearheading the production for 20 years.

“It’s just a lot of moving parts,” Loefgren said. “This is so much fun, I just love to see the kids and I love to see the dogs and it seems that everyone is getting more creative every year.”

Loefgren began planning for the festivities in May, just a couple of months before the day. For others, the planning started as soon as the previous years’ festivities wrapped up.

Joseph Holt, Artistic Director of Choral Artists of Sarasota, has been working with the groups’ executive director Susan Burke for the better part of the year to plan the Patriotic Spectacular show and select the pieces that will be performed.

“The whole idea of this program is one of inclusiveness,” Holt said. “I felt it was not a time to sort of crow or browbeat and just give ourselves a good pat on the back — but to celebrate who we are at this point.”

For Holt, as he fit together 15-20 pieces of traditional, patriotic music (think “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” the national anthem) with some more out-of-the-box pieces. Those include one commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, one by Leonard Bernstein, and a klezmer piece — a type of Jewish music.

“It talks about peace in our time, and that has become, for me, a little bit of a rallying cry for this time,” Holt said.

After the selections are finalized, 35 singers begin rehearsing for the hour-and-a-half-long show in June.

“I tend to think of it as kind of a choral fireworks,” Holt said. “It’s a prelude to the actual fireworks.”

Actual fireworks are easy to find on the evening of July 4 —perhaps none so easy to find as the Siesta Key fireworks display. Just follow the long line of cars to Siesta Beach and find a patch of sand.

Prep work started for the display in April, and much of that work revolves around fundraising. The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce raises about $50,000 annually to fund the fireworks and the permits necessary to make it happen.

Ann Frescura, Executive Director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, said in early May the group was almost halfway to the goal.

“It can come down to the wire, but we’re confident that we will get there,” Frescura said. In the meantime, she and the fireworks committee began meeting in April to iron out the hundreds of logistical details that go into a huge public event like this.

She and the committee must coordinate with the Sheriff’s Department and fire marshal to establish a safety perimeter around the launch site of the fireworks. They order barricades and yellow caution tape. They get permission to keep the north and south bridges down to allow for better traffic flow.

All of this, so that lead technician with Zambelli Fireworks Craig Merrill and his team can set off 2,000 shells, for a show that lasts about 30 minutes.

It can take more than 10 hours to set up the show on July 3 and 4, depending on the conditions.

“It’s definitely by far one of the best shows that we do on the west coast of Florida, for sure,” Merrill said.

The end of the fireworks show signals the end of Fourth of July celebrations for another year — that is, until it’s time to start planning again.

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