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Fireworks cap off night of rollicking beach music
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Friday night's concert and fireworks at Gainesville State College will also bring a longtime favorite back into the spotlight.

East River Drive, a beach music band formed in the late 1980s, will perform starting at 6:15 p.m. for the Starlight Concert and Fireworks Show, followed by fireworks at dark. The band will be performing with two of its original members - lead singer Jerry Dale and guitarist David Whitaker - along with keyboardist Doug Harkrider, drummer Dwight Merritt, Andy Wilson on bass and Greg Merritt on guitar.

"I think we're all pretty hyped up about it; we're all really excited. We're looking forward to doing the show," said Dwight Merritt. "It's a lot of fun to play large audiences like this. It's always good to get the feedback and energy of a crowd. That's what you live for when doing this."

Last year's event attracted between 3,000 and 4,000 people, said Michelle B. Brown, alumni director at Gainesville State College. The school's alumni association organizes the show, which raises money for scholarships at Gainesville State. Admission is $10 per car, $20 for vehicles with 15 passengers or more.

Merritt said the band specializes in "North Carolina beach music," and Dale added that their sound ranges from jazz to R&B to country - but all of it is perfect for a party.

"The way we started this group, we didn't want to focus everything on country music, we didn't want to focus on rock and roll, so we built this band off of mostly the black history - Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin, The Temptations," Dale said. "There seemed to be a greater demand for that when we went into it."

The band went through some rough times more than a decade ago - Whitaker was diagnosed with throat cancer and the band went on hiatus for a few years.

But now that Whitaker has a clean bill of health, Dale said they've been back at it for about a year and thoroughly enjoying their project.

"We went through some tough times," he said. "Dave is guitar player and does back-up vocals. But now he's back. He's not full strength, but he's back."

Gates open at 5:30 p.m., said Michelle B. Brown, alumni director at Gainesville State College. Guests are encouraged to bring picnic items, blankets and chairs.

There will also be giveaways from event sponsors, and Ronald McDonald will be on hand for the kids.

"It's one of those magical evenings, because families are out in the sun, the band usually pulls people on stage, kids are dancing in front," Brown said. "It's like a step back in time."

Fireworks begin once it gets dark.

"The fireworks are comparable to New Year's Eve in Atlanta," Brown said.