Freedom Fest is here to stay; Oct. 9 Shrimp Fest fill-in event at The Wharf will surely expand
By Fran Thompson
Roger Strick and Flo Rivers, who along with drummer Steve Jacobs, and Patrick Smiterman on bass, make up the band (pictured) Strickly Rivers, didn’t know he would be part of the answer to a trivia question when he booked his band to play the inaugural Freedom Fest on Saturday, Oct. 9 at 9 a.m. on the Main St. stage at The Wharf.
But with Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon announcing that the Festival will be an annual event rather than just a one-off response to the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber cancelling the National Shrimp Fest for the second consecutive year, Strickly Rivers can now always lay claim to being the first ever band to play at the festival.
“The organizers originally reached out to some friends. They were not available and recommended me. We are delighted to be a part of the event,’’ said Strick, who has been playing music on Pleasure Island since moving here from Birmingham nine years back.
“It’s great that this is going to be an annual thing, and I know it means a lot to the people who will be participating and attending,’’ he added. “I think it will be well attended and be a great event. I know I speak for a lot of people when I say I am delighted that Orange Beach stepped up.’’
“I wasn’t sure it was going to be a continued every year, but that is fantastic,’’ added Rivers, who was in the medical field before deciding to try to make making music her fulltime job.
Strickly Rivers, regulars at Papa Rocco’s, Ginny Lane and the GT’s/Cobalt /Cosmo’s bistro group, expect to play its usual eclectic set at Freedom Fest.
“My roots are in classic rock and acoustic finger picking, but my influences I couldn’t narrow down. They change all the time,’’ Strick said.
Rivers met Strick when she worked with his wife Diane, a nurse, during her stint as the clinic coordinator at South Baldwin Clinic in Gulf Shores.
A native of McIntosh, she has been singing all her life, but it is just since joining Strickly Rivers three years ago that she has made it her primary job.
“My love for music has always been there,’’ she said. “But since I’ve been working at it fulltime we’ve had an amazing run. The tourists and the hometown folks have been great and we are playing a lot of private parties.’’
Rivers attended Faulkner State on a performing arts scholarship and was part of the Sun Chiefs Sound. She said Strickly Rivers is working some original music into their sets, but do not expect them to limit any performance to one genre.
“We sing a little bit of everything from Patsy Cline to Elton John to Bill Withers,’’ she said. “We’re super excited to be playing the first fest. We are hearing that it’s going to be a good event and I think the weather is going to be really nice.’’
Orange Beach announced plans for the fest just one day after the Shrimp Fest dropped the bombshell that it was cancelling the fest due to continued Covid concerns.
“A large number of volunteers have voiced legitimate concerns over their safety, equating to a reduced ability to adequately manage and man the event,’’ the shrimp Fest committee stated in their release.
The local chamber did not make any attempt to recruit replacement or first time volunteers who were not part of their core group, which was a major complaint among naysayers.
The original intent of the Freedom Fest was to provide a venue for artists and guests who has already made plans to be on Pleasure Island for the weekend, but the Orange Beach community has since stepped up to provide support.
The response has been overwhelming, according to Mayor Kennon, who said Freedom Fest is here to say and will definitely be a yearly event during the traditional Shrimp Fest weekend.
“People can pick and choose what they want to do. But we are going to put together a festival every year without concern for what the Shrimp Fest is doing,’’ he said. “We have the Event Center, The Port and the Amphitheater at The Wharf. We have the new Performing Arts Center. We have the new beachfront property. There are too many venues here not to have something going on. And October is a beautiful month here.’’
Whether Freedom Fest expands to other locations has yet to be determined, but Mayor Kennon is certain that it is going to expand in some way.
“We could have different concerts day and night. We just don’t know where it will go, but we have so much flexibility that we can really make it happen and put on something special,’’ he said.
The response from vendors and artists has been as extraordinary as the support from the Orange Beach community, Mayor Kennon said.
“People are pumped up for this festival,’’ he said. “So many businesses have been willing to jump in and help out. It’s been eye opening. You can see how badly people want to return to their normal life.’’
A Brooks & Dunn concert and Orange Beach Expect Excellence production of The Addams Family Musical Comedy dinner theater at the Orange Beach Event Center (see page 12 story) were already on the books for that weekend.
“People have the right to choose what they wish to attend and decide the risk they are willing to take, just like sitting in a sold-out football stadium with a hundred thousand other folks. We know that it is late notice and we may not be able to pull this off, but we do need to make a statement that this virus will not dominate and control our lives,” said Mayor Kennon.
Freedom Fest, which is being promoted as “a fun annual arts weekend,’’ will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and include 100 artists covering a wide variety of mediums and crafts.
In addition to Strickly Rivers, the fest will feature shows by Brown Barnes Band, Cole Sitzlar and Tres Amigos.
Miss Alabama, Lauren Bradford from Gulf Shores, will also take the stage around lunchtime. A kids zone and the Singing for Scholarships student competition (see sidebar) are also attractions. Commemorative merchandise will be sold.
There will be cajun pistols, thanks to Bon Temps PoPoys, which will also serve jambalaya. Other menu items will include empanadas, BBQ, Hawaiian shaved ice and Acai fruit bowls. The Wharf’s many restaurants will be also be open and offer dine in, al fresco and take-out options.
The Wharf has vast parking areas, but if there is a need for overflow parking, an off-site shuttle system will be initiated from the Orange Beach High School parking lot and then the Orange Beach Sportsplex.
The local Mardi Gras Krew, The Marshals, will host the Let Freedom Roar Run and Rally at noon, leaving from the Orange Beach Event Center. Registration fee is $20 per motorcycle/Jeep (all passengers are free). Proceeds benefit Youth-Reach Gulf Coast, a Christ-centered residential ministry for young men ages 18-22. Participants can register at the departure sight before the run. around the island starts.