The annual Coca-Cola Star Spangled Celebration on the River draws in thousands of guests to the Hattiesburg and Petal sides of the Leaf River to enjoy music, fireworks and other activities to celebrate the Fourth of July.
Because of the negative economic impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this year’s third annual event – which is usually hosted by the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Hattiesburg Association and the Forrest County Board of Supervisors – has been canceled.
“We had put off making the decision on this for quite a while, just hoping that things would smooth out and we might have a better opportunity if we were just a little patient,” said Valerie Wilson, executive director of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce. “But as of now, we have decided not to go ahead with it.
“It’s not only because of the health concerns of having people together in the space, but (also) because so many of our merchants have been so devastatingly impacted by COVID-19. They are our sponsors for these events, and every year they budget to help with events like this that benefit our community and quality of life. Unfortunately, this year they have been so detrimentally affected that their budgets are shot, and we feel totally uncomfortable asking them to sponsor an event when we know how much uncertainty there is.”
Andrea Saffle, executive director of the Downtown Hattiesburg Association, said different ideas for this year’s event had been kicked around, but officials didn’t feel comfortable asking other entities such as the city or county for money for the endeavor.
“Something else may come up, but the Star-Spangled Celebration as we know it is off for this year,” she said. “We’re not killing the event; we’re just canceling it for this year.
“We talked about looking at alternate locations, or doing it as a drive-thru event, but it comes down to (the fact) that it is an event that costs more money than it raises for everybody involved. We just don’t feel like that’s the prudent thing to try and do at this time.”
The event, which is usually held on or around July 3 at Petal River Park and Chain Park on the Leaf River, brings in upwards of 10,000 attendees each year. Past musical acts include Charles “CC” Carter, Mississippi Moonlight, Wes Lee, Sugarmouth and Pine Belt Pickers.
Vendors include local establishments such as Southern Beverage, Mercury Pizza, Country Kettle Corns & Skins and Kona Ice.
“A lot of people take for granted that these events just happen, and don’t really know who are the people and businesses behind it, putting up the money and supporting it,” Wilson said. “And they are going to be local businesses – you’re not going to have national chains coming in and helping with this.
“They’re going to be locally owned, or managed, or franchised. We (want everybody), in the future, to please pay attention to those sponsors that are allowing us to have events like this in the community. We want them to show their support by shopping with these sponsors, or being clients or patients or whatever it might be.”
And although this year’s event may be canceled, officials are looking forward to next year’s offering.
“As a matter of fact, we have had some vendors that we’ve contacted and told them they’ve already paid their vendor fee, if they’d like a refund,” Wilson said. “We’ve had several say to just keep it for next year.
“Unfortunately, the bigger ones are unable to just leave money sitting aside for a year.”