West Fla. Unity Paves Way for Thousands to Celebrate Freedom

Tens of thousands of residents from central Florida gathered Thursday to commemorate Independence Day with games, Christian music and fellowship.

FreedomFest, which was held this year at Florida Classic Park in Brooksville, Fla., featured popular Christian musician Matthew West and Christian artist Rob Taylor, a former offensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The faith-based family event also included a talent show, family-friendly games, food and music and a fireworks display put on by nationally renowned Pyrotechnico of America, which brings world-class fireworks entertainment to the Super Bowl.

"FreedomFest is an annual community event featuring performances by popular, contemporary musical artists and spectacular fireworks to celebrate our freedom and those who have sacrificed so that we may enjoy it," the event's organizers state in its website.

Founded in 2006, FreedomFest is paid for each year by sponsorships and local churches and community groups in order to keep it free to the public. This year's event was presented by the Brooksville Ministerial Association, along with several Christian organizations and a number of local churches and businesses.

"Because of its limited funding, a tremendous amount of effort goes into planning and hosting the FreedomFest, provided by an army of volunteers, consisting mostly of community leaders and business people," the organizers explained.

"This makes the event a true representation of what can happen when a community unites," they added. "The FreedomFest has continued to grow, almost doubling in size each year and we look forward to it being the largest event of its kind on Florida's West Coast."

Event planner Joe Santerelli, senior pastor at Hillside Community Baptist Church and president of the Brooksville Ministerial Association, said he was glad FreedomFest came to Brooksville this year and that people got a chance to honor military veterans.

"We think they deserve to be honored," Santerelli told the St. Petersburg Times.

FreedomFest, which was held in Pinellas Park the previous two years, bills itself as being "all about people, and freedom and inspiration."

"Since its inception in 2006, FreedomFest has helped change over 800 lives," the event's organizers claim in their website.

This year's event expected to draw around 30,000 people.

The free concert and fireworks show came at a time when public displays have been canceled across the nation mainly due to a sluggish economy. Tight budgets in cities throughout Florida, including Cocoa Beach and Weston, have led officials to pull the plug on the annual shows.