A few dark clouds on the horizon couldn’t stop Celebration 2014 from drawing a crowd to the Martinsville Speedway on Thursday.
The grandstand roared as headlining band The Cadillac Three took the stage, offering up lively, hard-edged outlaw country music. Many fans showed up wearing Cadillac Three T-shirts, some store-bought, some hand-made.
Super Hold opened the show, playing an eclectic mix of 1980s classics, from Devo’s “Whip It” to Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”
The middle act, The Domino Band, played a variety of high-energy soul, R&B and funk classics, from Aretha Franklin to Marvin Gaye, while many audience members danced in the stands.
According to many attendees, however, the biggest draw was the evening fireworks show. The audience cheered as patriotic music underscored the starbursts in the cloudy sky.
“It’s the best fireworks event that I’ve ever seen,” said area resident Michelle Cruise.
Cruise said that her husband, Jamie Cruise, is a Martinsville police officer who helped provide security at the event.
Because of the quality security at the event, Cruise said, “You don’t have to worry so much about your kids.”
The couple’s children — Kristen, 17, Destiny, 10, and Dylan, 6 — were enjoying the rides offered at the event. Their favorites, Michelle Cruise said, were the swings and the Hot Shot, which raises the riders up and then drops them down the length of a tall pillar.
Cruise said she was glad that her children enjoyed the rides, but she preferred sitting on the hill and watching them.
Asia Fulter and Amanda Curtis, both 9, were in line to ride another attraction, a Ferris wheel with spinning cars attached to it.
Amanda said that she was scared the first time she got on the ride, but it wasn’t scary “once you get used to it.”
Melanie Moore said her young nephews, Acoma and Kymani Hairston, also were enjoying the rides and bounce houses.
“We do a cookout every year when they have this event,” Moore said. “Then we bring the kids here, let them play, and then we take them home ... and then watch the fireworks.”
Moore said she’s been to Celebration for about 16 years, and “the atmosphere, the fun and the fireworks” always keep her coming back.
For the teenage set, there were other favorite attractions. Thomas Scott said he was enjoying watching the lightning on the horizon, while his friend Tyler Krejci of Carroll County said he enjoyed girl-watching.
Krejci, among many others, said one of the greatest features of the event is that it is free.
“Where I’m from,” Krejci said, similar events cost “$30 per ride,” although Scott suggested that his buddy might have been exaggerating slightly.
Steven Evans, 16, said he’s been coming to the event since he was a small child, and the fireworks and music always are the main attractions. Even if he isn’t familiar with the bands playing, Evans said, he still makes a point to check them out.
“I spend time with friends if I see them come out,” he added, moments before a group of young passersby yelled out “Steven!”
Although the event went on in spite of the weather, the threat of storms did cause a few delays. Because of the risk of lightning, the rides were shut down twice, and near the end of The Domino Band’s set, the grandstand was temporarily evacuated, cutting the set short.
Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell had to change his own plans out of safety concerns. To raise money for the Fuel for Families food drive at the speedway, Campbell had planned to sit in a dunking booth for three hours, between 3 and 6 p.m.
As the lightning flashed on the horizon, Campbell decided that a metal tub full of water probably was not the safest place to be, and he left the dunking booth after about an hour and a half.
“We did pretty good for the short time I was in there,” Campbell said, adding that he’s already working on some ideas to raise money for charity at next year’s event.
How many times was Campbell dunked?
“Too many,” he said, laughing. “But it was nice. When I got started, the sun was out and it was pretty hot, so it was refreshing. It was fun; I enjoyed it. I think the ones that had a chance to dunk me enjoyed it, too.”
Campbell said he looks forward to the Celebration event every year.
“It’s just a nice, fun, family night,” he said.
Sponsors for Celebration 2014 were: American Global Logistics, Ameristaff, Applied Felts, Bassett Furniture, Bassett Office Supply, BB&T, Blue Ridge Aquaculture, Brad Parker Insurance Agency – Nationwide Insurance, Carter Bank & Trust, Carter Machinery, Chamber’s Partnership for Economic Growth, City of Martinsville, Collinsville Printing, Commonwealth Laminating, Cool Knobs and Pulls, Dillon Insurance, Eastman, First Piedmont, Frith Construction, Henry County, Henry County Baptist Association, Henry County Sheriff’s Department, Hooker Furniture, Martinsville DuPont Credit Union, Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, Martinsville Speedway, Martinsville Speedway Children’s Foundation, Memorial Hospital in Martinsville, Nelson Automotive, RTI Martinsville, River Community Bank, Shenandoah Furniture, Southwestern Virginia Gas, Stanley Furniture, Steve Martin Trenching, TR Properties, Taco Bell, Tarheel Paper and Supply Co., The Lester Group, Virginia Mirror, Virginia State Police, Virginia Department of Transportation, West Window and Zenith Logistics.