"Wave to mommy," Rocky Morgan of Belle River told his daughter Haley Morgan, 1, as Lauren Morgan snapped a picture of them during a pony ride in the children's village at Donaldsonville's annual July 3rd celebration, Fireworks on the River, Thursday night.
Organized by the Downtown Development District and Speakabox Entertainment through city funds the 15th edition of the annual observation may have seen its thickest gathering yet.
DDD executive director John Rodgers estimated 7,000 people made their way to Crescent Park for "good food, good fireworks and good music."
"Everyone told me it was a big deal but I didn't expect this many people," a recent transplant to the area. "I heard last year it was the biggest crowd ever and this year everyone is telling me it is even bigger than last year. It was very impressive."
Rodgers said preparations for the event began in February and the turnout is positive for the city.
"The Mainstreet Program is all about getting people to come back to downtown," Rodgers said. "When you have a small town like Donaldsonville attracting this many people, this is what it is all about. Getting people to come downtown, stay downtown and enjoy downtown."
Mayor Leroy Sullivan said the city budgeted $15,000 for the event, up from $12,000 a year ago, when the event was at risk to be discontinued due to the dissolvement of the city's tourism commission.
"The Downtown Development District took on the task to make sure it continues," Sullivan said. "They did a wonderful job with the preparation."
Sullivan said the addition of a children's village with pony rides, train rides, and face painting improved the event.
"This event gives people the opportunity to have a good time the day before the Fourth of July so they can spend the holiday with their families," Sullivan said. "I think it is pretty neat that we can get a large turnout. As it gets closer to the fireworks more and more people come out."
Speakabox's Jason Oliver, who was responsible for booking the bands, said the children's village was funded through donations. The City Council asked Speakabox to organize the event last year.
"We still got a few glitches putting on an event like this," Oliver said. "This crowd is really, I think bigger than last year. We increased vendors this year. After last year, we had everything in line, which made it flow pretty easily."
Bands included Waters Edge Band from Pierre Part and Hip Boot Joe from Gonzales.
"I came in the fourth inning but for me to do it and make it worth my while I had to chose the bands so if it fails, it is on my account," Oliver said. "I tried to get the crowds in from all sides of the river so we can get everybody to come to Donaldsonville and see that this is a great event. I think we accomplished what we are trying to do."
Page 2 of 2 - Councilman Charles Brown said the event is something the entire city can be proud of.
"Every year it gets bigger," Brown said. "We are all coming together and I believe that is what America should be about."
Artisan Pyrotechnics' Mike Buzbee said the fireworks would last 14 minutes estimating over 500 fireworks with the largest shells six inches in diameter on the menu including an electronic finale.
"It is pretty colorful," Buzbee said.