HAINES CITY – It’s called Thunder on the Ridge, but the question is where the thunder is going to come from.
It could be, as Tommy Cassel noted, from Mother Nature, if Florida’s rainy season finally kicks into gear.
Or it could be something else entirely, something more traditionally associated with the joys of Independence Day: one of those big, spectacular fireworks displays.
“It’s called Thunder on the Ridge,” said Cassel, the rental facilities manager for the Lake Eva Banquet Hall in downtown Haines City. The banquet hall is at Lake Eva Park, which is hosting the all-day event on July 4, an annual celebration that brings thousands to the city every year and helps attract tourists to Polk County.
“It’s from noon to about 10 p.m.,” Cassel said. “We have local entertainment starting at noon and going throughout the day. It will wind down at 7:30 (p.m.), and then Craig Morgan will take the stage.”
The popular Nashville country singer is best known for such hits as “That’s What I Love About Sunday,” “Almost Home,” “Little Bit Of Life,” and “Bonfire.” Getting him to perform at Thunder on the Ridge is a big coup for the city, Cassel said.
“When Craig Morgan opened at the State Fair, his concert tickets cost $66 apiece, and he sold out,” Cassel said. “And this is a free concert.”
Morgan will be performing to the crowd for about 90 minutes.
“After he’s done around 9:15 or so,” Cassel said, “we’ll shoot off the fireworks.”
This year, Cassel added, the fireworks show will be a little big different from what was done in the past – since this year it will be as much of a concert as a light show.
“Usually it’s about a 40 to 45 minute show, but we’re probably going to be doing 35 minutes this year because it will be synchronized to music, a combination of different patriotic songs,” he said.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that, with this being the rainy season, there may be some real thunder up above – as well as heavy downpours. No matter, Cassel said, the show will go on regardless.
“We generally do it rain or shine,” he said. “Last year we had to wait a bit for a storm to go over. We’ll shoot them off even if we have to wait a little bit.”
The fireworks show isn’t likely to be impacted by a burn ban in Polk County that’s outlawed the use of fireworks. While the ban forbids residents from igniting fireworks, cities that hold outdoor shows like Thunder on the Ridge are exempt, and Cassel said his office works with the Haines City Fire Department to ensure the show is done according to all safety codes and regulations.
The burn ban has been in effect for the past two weeks because of exceedingly dry weather in the region and the lack of significant rainfall.
“We’ve gotten the okay from the Fire Department,” Cassel said. “We work hand in hand with both our police and fire departments and we’ll have both of them down here monitoring and inspecting and watching the fireworks to make sure we’re safe to shoot them off.”
Hank Longo, the visitor services manager for Polk Outpost 27, the visitors information center on U.S. 27 in Davenport, said this is definitely the place to be in Polk County on Independence Day.
“Thunder on the Ridge is the biggest fireworks display going on,” Longo said.
In addition to the music and fireworks, there’s plenty of other activites for families to enjoy throughout the day, Cassel said.
“We have food and craft vendors and children’s activities as well,” he said. “We’ll also have sack races and watermelon eating contests.”
This is an event, he noted, that always draws a huge overflow crowd.
“Last year, we got a crowd of 25,000 to 30,000,” Cassel said. “It’s a free concert.”
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