2016 Freedom Blast Veterans Walk

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Monday, June 6

Frequent visitors to the City of Greer’s Freedom Blast Festival will notice the return of many crowd favorites when the 2016 festival takes place June 25 at Greer City Park. One of the largest fireworks shows in South Carolina, an evening of live entertainment, food vendors offering festival fare, the return of a UH-72 helicopter and other army vehicles, and numerous activities for children. 

 

Missing from this year’s festivities is not a what but a who

 

Preston Johnson, a Vietnam veteran whose service included leadership at both the local and state levels of Disabled American Veterans and helping to organize Freedom Blast since the first festival in 2009, passed away in January. Event coordinators promise that Johnson will be present in spirit as the annual Freedom Blast Veterans Walk will be named in his honor. 

 

“Preston was a integral part of Freedom Blast from Day One and he knew how to make things happen to recognize those who have served our country,” said Ann Cunningham, director of the City of Greer Parks and Recreation Department. “For all of his contributions to the festival, it’s his friendship that we all miss the most. I’m so glad we will be able to publicly honor his life and work.” 

 

Freedom Blast annually allows the Greer community and visitors from across the Upstate to celebrate freedom with the goal of honoring both active and veteran servicemen and servicewomen who have made that freedom possible. 

 

The popular Military Tribute and Preston Johnson Veterans Walk will begin at 8:35 p.m. Veterans of any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces who would like to participate in the walk may meet at the park fountain no later than 8:30 p.m. The speaker will be U.S. Navy Commander Tadd Gorman, who led the USS Ross on two patrols in the Mediterranean and Black Seas as a Forward Deployed Naval Force ship, conducting Ballistic Missile Defense operations. The Ross successfully intercepted a ballistic missile in the North Atlantic Ocean during the Maritime Theater Missile Defense Forum’s At Sea Demonstration last October marking the first intercept of a ballistic missile threat in the European theater. 

 

The main stage will feature the Early Ray Band beginning at 7:30 p.m. with a second set at 9:10 p.m. Their self-described “Carolina Smash Mouth Country Music” combines bits and pieces of each band member’s background for an eclectic sound. 

 

“I love the fact that we have a wide variety of experience and styles to choose from. Nothing is more unoriginal than a band of guys who grew up playing the exact same thing and liking the exact same music. It’s a unique chemistry that only we have,” said founder Rayen Belchere, also known as Early Ray.

 

One of the band’s career highlights was opening for the Charlie Daniels Band. However, according to Belchere most of their shows have been memorable. 

“There have been so many great shows, it becomes a blur after awhile. We love them all,” he commented. 

 

Given that the band has played alongside such major acts as Dierks Bently, Pat Green, Montgomery Gentry, Kip Moore, Tate Stevens and Corey Smith, it’s no surprise that Belchere calls live shows their “bread and butter.” 

 

The annual Freedom Blast fireworks show accompanied by patriotic music in City Park will begin at 10:10 p.m. 

 

The celebration begins at 6 p.m. with the Greer Idol competition. The annual Texas Roadhouse Rib Eating competition is set for 7:05 p.m. at the main stage. 

 

In addition to the helicopter, military displays in Greer City Park will feature an assortment of vehicles on display on E. Poinsett St, courtesy of the S.C. Army National Guard and vintage military vehicles provided by the Military History Center of the Carolinas. The Disabled American Veterans and the Marine Corps League will also staff displays and information booths. 

 

Free crafts and activities are the attraction at Kids Zone, while unlimited fun on inflatable attractions and the rock climbing wall will be offered for $5 per child. Adults who purchase wristbands at the same price may climb a rock wall and challenge the spinning arms of the Meltdown attraction. 

 

Visitors are encouraged to come hungry and purchase dinner and dessert from one of 11 vendors lining the Greer City Park promenade. Pepsi and Budweiser will be available at beverage carts throughout the park and mister stations will provide a cool respite. 

 

Guests will have an opportunity to give the gift of life from 6-10 p.m. as the Blood Connection seeks to keep pace with local hospitals’ summertime demand for blood. 

 

The City of Greer has launched a new website with complete information about Freedom Blast. It may be accessed at www.freedomblast.org.

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