OAKBORO — With Independence Day events being canceled across the state, Oakboro’s traditional July 4th Celebration followed suit, but in its place, citizens have now organized impromptu activities downtown to keep the spirit of the holiday alive.
On June 3, the town celebration’s official Facebook page announced they were “deeply saddened” to have to cancel the 62nd annual Oakboro 4th of July Celebration.
The announcement went on to say, “There will not be any rides, no parades, no pageant or live bands,” but they are proceeding with the yearly fireworks, now at 10 p.m. on July 4. They are also still having the Spirit Pageant raffle, a yearly competition to see who can sell the most tickets to support the Oakboro Fire Department, but this year it would be without the pageant event.
Oakboro Fire Department Chief Rodney Eury told SCJ, “Our event is one of the biggest 4th of July events in the state. It was a tough decision to have to do what we’ve done. But the coronavirus is serious.”
Eury said a main reason they didn’t think they could do the five-day long festival was the rides company would likely not get approved by the state, and then they’d have to immediately pack up and leave again. They also knew that if they were the only major event in the wider region, it would become an even bigger liability, with people traveling from all over to attend.
“We were hoping it [state-imposed restrictions] would relax some more, and we could at least do a parade, but no one else around us is doing a parade,” Eury said. “So we were concerned that it would be so big that it would be hard to handle.”
Only one day after the committee’s cancelation announcement, Zach Helms of Locust had created a Facebook page to organize an “Oakboro Freedom Convoy,” an unofficial parade of sorts to take place the morning of the 4th of July. Within a couple weeks, the page had over 2,000 followers, and a plan of action with the blessing of local officials.
“Please join us for the convoy Saturday morning. We will meet at Oakboro Park at 8 sharp and the convoy will start moving at 9,” Helms said in a June 29 post on the group’s page.
In addition, an “Oakboro Freedom Pageant” was streamed live from Stanfield on June 29, where the contestants, but no audience, was present.
Krystal Tucker, the organizer of the event, said her daughter had won the Spirit Pageant seven years in a row, and they were very disappointed when it was canceled this year. The raffle tickets were still being sold, but without the events, she said, “we’re not participating in that.”
Tucker said Helms called her and said, “A parade isn’t a parade without queens in it. Would you mind doing a little pageant?” She agreed to take it on, organizing the event in just a few weeks.
Unlike other years, the queens will not be as prominently displayed in the parade, or “convoy,” as it’s being called this year.
“The convoy has to follow all the street laws, so we can’t really have queens in beds of trucks or anything like that,” Tucker said. “They’ll probably just decorate their vehicles and put a poster on the side of their car.”
“We just wanted to add some excitement to the community, because I feel like it’s just such a dark time for everybody.”
To accompany the official 10 p.m. fireworks, as well as the unofficial parade and it’s Freedom Pageant queens, Paul Hinchliffe, owner of Main Street Cup and Cone in downtown Oakboro, announced he was planning his own 4th of July event — a live music and food truck party he calls the “Oakboro Freedom Concert.”
“We have decided to do live music on the 4th on our Property to Traditionally Celebrate,” Hinchliffe said on the Oakboro Freedom Convoy page. “We feel it would be great for our community since everything else has been canceled.”
He said he had one band ready to play but was looking for more. After numerous suggestions and volunteers, Hinchliffe now has local acts scheduled from 2 p.m. until the fireworks start at 10 p.m. There will also be food trucks to serve those who show up. While wanting to hold an in-person event, he made clear they “fully intend on social distancing and will encourage people to space out and bring their own lawn chairs.”
“People can do whatever they desire to do,” Eury said about all the events popping up after the official celebration was canceled. “I don’t have anything bad or negative to say about it. If that’s what people want to do, then that’s what they can do.”
The fire chief did say the cancellations and the alternate pageant have hurt their raffle ticket sales — a major yearly fundraiser for their department — but “there’s nothing we can do about it.”
For those coming to the fireworks, Eury asks that they stay by their vehicle and respect social distancing.
“We urge people to sit in your vehicle or stay at your vehicle. We don’t want people out mingling around and going from one vehicle to another,” Eury said. “We’re just looking forward to it [the COVID-19 pandemic] being over with so we can have our normal celebration next year.”