Celebration ’13 is a rock and roll memory now, after Night Ranger rocked the Martinsville Speedway Wednesday and fireworks lit up a cloudy sky.
“Well, well. Look at what we’ve got here. A rock and roll show in Virginia,” said Jack Blades, lead vocalist and bass guitarist for the band.
“What do I call this? Ridgeway,” he asked, in an impromptu contest. “Or Martinsville?” The crowd erupted as each place was mentioned, but there was no clear cut winner.
That being the case, Blades offered a third option that everyone seemed to agree on: “How about Rock ‘N Roll ‘Ville,” he asked.
During an interview before the band went on stage, guitar player and vocalist Brad Gillis said “We feed off of the audience. Hopefully, it’ll be a big crowd.”
And the band was not disappointed by the amount of energy shown by the hundreds in attendance.
The band’s first song was an a capella version of the “Star Spangled Banner,” followed by its opening number, “Lay It On Me,” and other hits such as “Four in the Morning (I Can’t Take Anymore),” “Coming of Age” and “A Touch of Madness.”
“C’mon Brad, let’s give ‘em a little touch of madness right now,” Blades said to Gillis.
Other band members included Kelly Keagy on drums and lead vocals, Joel Hoekstra, guitar and vocals, and Eric Levy on keyboards, according to Gillis, who said the band is half-way through recording a new album.
“We will be in Japan in February,” Gillis said. “They love us there,” he said, just as did the crowd in “Rock ‘N Roll ‘Ville.” Many fans worked their way to the front of the stage to get a close-up view of the band.
From “Crazy Train” to “The Secret of My Success” and “Sentimental Street,” Night Ranger fans sang along, clapped and some even danced in the aisles.
Project 4, a Roanoke band, opened the show with a mix of songs — from “Lonely Old Night” to “Constant Sorrow” — that were familiar to many in the stands.
But the performances were not the only attraction, especially for youngsters who came early to take a spin or two on the carnival rides.
With one eye on the threatening sky and another on her son, Tonda Goad of Bassett made sure she was prepared for rain — just in case.
As she watched her son, Enrique Penn, 9, ride the Tempest, Goad stood with umbrellas in her hands.
“We come every year,” she said. Even if the rain came, “we’ll stay as long as we can.”
Rain fell on the area most of the day Wednesday, but it stopped just before the gates opened at 5 p.m. A few sprinkles during the evening did not distract the crowd.
Kristy Matias of Ft. Drum, N.Y., brought her children Jayden, 10; Jeremy, 9; and Javien, 5, to the celebration.
Her husband, Jose Matias, “is normally always deployed (in the military) around this time” of year, Matias said. Whenever he is deployed, she and the children return to Martinsville and Henry County to stay with her relatives.
“We’ve been here a couple months,” she said. “We love” the celebration.
Rain, wasn’t enough to keep her at home.
“You only live once and you’ve got to enjoy it,” Matias said. Besides, “a little rain never hurt nobody.”
Susan Wilson of Eden, N.C., her husband, David, and their daughter, Hannah, 6, were first-timers to the annual event that is held to celebrate Independence Day.
Wilson said the family generally goes to the Eden celebration, and in comparison, the rides in Martinsville “are much better.”
Dorian Dillard also of Eden, brought his 2-year-old son, Jayden, because “it’s fun for him. This is our second year of coming. He rode the trains last year.”
Although she is a Rockingham County, N.C., native, Sandra Comer recently moved to Ridgeway from Pennsylvania to be closer to her grandchildren.
“I get (to spend) time with them, and this is something they enjoy,” she said while sitting nearby as her grandchildren Shayna Cline, 11; Logan Cline, 8; and Hailey Cline, 4, squealed with delight while on or waiting in line for rides named the Drop Zone, Kick Bootie, Para Trooper, Berry Go Round and many others.
“I’m glad to be here. I’m having a ball. You see who’s eating the cotton candy, don’t you,” Comer said, as she pinched off a bite of pink, gooey cotton candy.
The threat of rain also was not a deterrent.
“As much (rain) as I’ve been in the last three or four days, I’m already like Daffy Duck,” Comer said, and laughed.
Andrew and Yvonne Anderson of Ridgeway came with their six children — aged 7 to 18 — in tow.
“We were actually planning to go to Roanoke,” Andrew Anderson said. “But this is closer to home.”
Jimmy Piech of Reidsville, N.C., made a second trip to his vehicle and returned with three umbrellas.
“The rides and the fireworks are the best around,” Piech said, and added that he and his wife, Casey and their children, Cayla, 14; Cameron, 9; and Bubba, 13, attended the event with other family members.
“And we’re going to stick it out” until the end, Piech said. “I think it’s (rain) going to hold off. I hope so. I want to see the fireworks.”
Tammy Wood of Bassett and her daughter, Morgan Wood, 12, also brought umbrellas, as nearby Sammy Shatley of Bassett tried to convince Kasey “The Champ” Anderson, also of Bassett, to get on a menacing looking ride.
“This is amazing,” Anderson said. Shatley noted that while the rides held his attention, the fireworks show was the real reason he came.
Delta Mitchell of Ridgeway attends the event each year with her daughters Hannah, 12,; and Brittney, 8, both of whom she admonished to “Ride as fast as you can and as hard as you can before the rain starts.”
Brenda Mitchem of Collinsville said she has attended the event each year, except for one year when she was at the beach.
“This is great for the area. It’s something for our kids to do and I thank Clay (Campbell, speedway president) and” the other sponsors for putting on the event, Mitchem said.
While many came to the event, the threat of rain may have kept some others away.
Still, “I think the crowd is good, considering the terrible weather” earlier in the week and on Wednesday, Campbell said. “I knew the crowd would be off some, considering everything we’ve been through, but we’ve been blessed” with the turnout.