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Concert revs up crowd for sizzling Fourth of July
The amphitheater at Brenau University is full Saturday for the Patriotic Picnic Pops concert featuring the Gainesville Symphony Orchestra with Shawn Megorden. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
Fourth of July events
  • Independence Day Celebration, Dawsonville. Relay races, patriotic crafts and watermelon seed-spitting contest. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge, 418 Amicalola Falls Lodge Road, Dawsonville. $5 parking.
  • American Legion Paul E. Bolding Post 7 fireworks display, Gainesville. Day of activities capped off by fireworks at dusk. Gates open at noon today, Laurel Park, 3100 Old Cleveland Highway, Gainesville. $5 parking per car; concessions available for sale.
  • Fourth of July Fireworks, Braselton. Dusk tonight, Chateau Elan Winery, 100 Tour De France, Braselton. Free. 800-233-9463.
  • Fourth of July Family Celebration, Dahlonega. Pet show, ceremony, reading of the U.S. Constitution, watermelon cutting, car show, live music, parade and fireworks. Parade at 5 p.m., fireworks at dusk tonight. North Georgia College & State University, 82 College Circle, Dahlonega. Free.
  • July Fourth Mountain Style, Helen. Watermelon eating contest, sack races, live music and a hoedown. 9 tonight, Unicoi State Park and Lodge, 1788 Ga. 356 N, Helen. $5 parking.
  • Celebrate Braselton Festival, Braselton. Annual festival with live music, children’s activities, a parade and booths. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., downtown Braselton. Free.
  • Mall of Georgia’s Fabulous Fourth, Buford. Live music, kids activities, fireworks and movie. Live music 2-9 p.m. today, and fireworks at dark. Mall of Georgia, 3333 Buford Drive, Buford. Free.

Patriotism brings the Gainesville community together.

Hundreds of friends set up chairs, tables and blankets at the Brenau University amphitheater on Saturday night to enjoy another year of the Patriotic Pops event.

The Gainesville Symphony Orchestra presented its first concert of the season as the sun set behind the Brenau student center, casting a warm spotlight on the stage.

For some, it’s just plain tradition.

“The Gainesville Symphony Orchestra is phenomenal for this size of town, and the current director is terrific,” said John Hewitt, who has attended the concert since it started in 1996. “On the patriotic side, you can’t say enough about all the people who have gone before us and gave their lives so we could live.”

Hewitt’s father and father-in-law served in World War II, and his grandfathers and great uncle served in World War I.

“I do it out of respect to them and my many friends in high school and college who went to Vietnam,” he said. “We don’t spend enough time remembering how we got here and that we had to fight.”

With tables set up in front of the stage and along the back of the outdoor venue, residents toted picnic dinners, wine and a few dogs. Two sisters rolled down the grassy hill to the side of the amphitheater. At a nearby table, a couple of women talked and laughed before the concert started.

“It’s great to be with close friends and our extended Gainesville family,” said Jenny Kitchens, who came out for the fourth year in a row. “It’s about being together and enjoying the music. It’s a great Gainesville thing to do.”

With the concert on the day before Independence Day, some joked it was like “Christmas Eve to the Fourth of July.”

“It’s a great start to the Fourth weekend,” said Linda Harris, attending the concert for a third year. “We know a lot of people here, so it’s fun. It’s a great way to celebrate our country and recognize that we have this freedom.”

The concert attracted youngsters, too. It was the first opportunity for 1-year-old Callie Harper, who pulled her dad toward the stage as the players tuned their instruments.

“She couldn’t sit still any longer,” Shane Harper said with a smile. “My son, who is 3, loves it. To kids, it’s outside and it’s music, so it’s great.”

For Charlie Bryant, a rising junior at Gainesville High School, and sister Nolen Bryant, a rising eighth-grader at Gainesville Middle School, the concert is a “tradition in the making.”

“I don’t hear this kind of music very often, not with all of these instruments together,” said Nolen Bryant, attending for a second year. “We’re up close, so I’ll actually get to see them play.”

The outdoor experience is unique for the musicians, too.

“It’s an interesting environment instead of being in a big hall,” said Candace Monnerie, executive director for the orchestra. “The players really love it because they usually don’t see a lot from the stage. When you are on an outdoor stage, you feel more connected, feel the air, see the stars and a sea of candles.”

With uplifting music, the annual event is an “invigoration.”

“It’s a moment to renew the spirit and remind ourselves about being American and coming together,” she said. “Even if you’re not versed in classical music, it’s a concert for all ages, people and backgrounds to recognize your national anthems and identify with one meaning — we’re all American.”