ST. PAULS — After heavy rain delayed the start of the town’s Fourth of July celebration by a half-hour, N.C. Roots Band Director Saleem Johnson made an announcement to several families who had huddled under tents and in cars during the storm.
“It’s not the Fourth of July,” Johnson said with a smile. “It’s adapt day.”
The event’s organizers had to adapt quickly along with three bands that were scheduled to play live music throughout the evening on a grass lot behind Lumbee Guaranty Bank off West McLean Street.
The downpour cost the musicians several pieces of electronic equipment that had been set up prior to the storm, forcing them to bring in backup speakers and other necessary items.
Bob Lawrence, a member of N.C. Roots, wasn’t fazed by the circumstances. He said he was impressed with the willingness of St. Pauls residents to come out to the event after the storm.
“It doesn’t have a large population, but word gets out and they rally to it,” Lawrence said. “When the call goes out, they’re all capable of answering. That’s marvelous. That doesn’t exist every place.
“For a small town to want to come together, commune with each other, celebrate this event and have hometown talent on every other street that’s willing to come out, whether they get paid or not, in order to entertain each other, says a lot about the spirit of this town.”
N.C Roots was joined by Great Marsh Band and Through the Nights as the three bands that took the stage on Wednesday evening. Fighting through technical difficulties and shortened set times resulting from the rain, they entertained the crowd with a variety of classic hits.
Town Administrator J.R. Steigerwald said the live music was one of the aspects of the celebration that made it different from previous years.
“Local merchant Larry McGougan loaned us two cotton trailers, and between the band leader and my public works people, we were able to get the bands covered,” Steigerwald said.
The donated trailers were combined to form a makeshift stage for the bands. Tents donated by American Legion were set up to cover the stage, and mats donated by New Life Church served as the finishing touch.
The organizers relied on a steady power source to host the bands, something they didn’t have at last year’s event.
“Now we’ve got power at our pump station, which is conveniently located on site,” Steigerwald said.
After Lumbee Guaranty Bank agreed to let the city use the grass lot, organizers had a good start on preparing for the event. One of the only things they couldn’t control was the weather.
“You kind of hope it doesn’t (rain), but that’s the kind of threat you have with every outside event,” Steigerwald said. “Unfortunately, the highest chance of rain was this day. It was also the coolest day of the week. But this fireworks display has always been dodging thunderstorms.”
As storm clouds slowly moved away from the city, swarms of vehicles begin gravitating toward the event and parking in a nearby lot. Many patrons stopped by the event to hear the live music or stop by the event’s selection of vendors, which included burgers, hot dogs, pizza and snow cones.
“This was funded by our Tourism and Development Authority,” Steigerwald said. “The idea was to market the community as a nice place to come and do things with. Our 20-minute-plus firework display is always strong. This is an opportunity to expand it, like our night on the town.”
The fireworks were provided by the St. Pauls Volunteer Fire Department.
Lawrence said the event provided a chance for an already tight-knit community to reunite.
“All the kids know each other. All the adults know each other,” Lawrence said. “Stores are being patronized by people that grew up here. People who have the stores probably used to patronize the stores that they now own. It’s that type of thing.”
The county’s Independence Day celebrations will conclude with Pembroke’s Fourth of July Summer Jam at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Milton R. Hunt Memorial Park. The Pizazz Band will be performing live music at the event.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.