Extreme heat didn't slow down country music lovers who attended Saturday's kick-off for the annual Salute to America Fourth of July Celebration.
When the gates to the Missouri State Penitentiary opened at 4 p.m. a steady stream of "Inside the Walls" concert-goers came into the old prison grounds ready to enjoy several opening acts before the featured entertainment, Big & Rich with special guest Cowboy Troy.
Those who did arrive early got a chance to enjoy a variety of drinks and food offerings in the prison courtyard in front of the main stage.
An exclusive chance to "eat like an inmate" offered in A-Hall featuring a prison-themed dinner served cafeteria-style by Prison Brews was sold out. Those who purchased dinner tickets got the opportunity to view a collection of inmate-created art provided by Debbie Brown and explore the first floor of the oldest cell block in the prison.
A couple of years ago, organizers had to deal with thunderstorms and this year it was a heat index around 105. Regardless, Salute to American Foundation Event Director Jill Snodgrass said they were pleased with the crowd and that they came prepared for the hot weather.
"We worked to make sure we had as many solutions to the heat on hand," she said. "We had free water available, cooling stations, a Cole County Ambulance was on the grounds and St. Mary's Hospital also had staff to make sure if someone got over-heated, they were here."
Snodgrass said they believe they're starting to see more than just Mid-Missouri residents come to the annual prison concert event.
"We've tried to go outside of the Jefferson City and Columbia area, and I think it's paying off," she said. "When you have the combination of great groups like we've had — Travis Tritt, Wynonna Judd and this year Big & Rich — combined with a venue like the Missouri State Penitentiary, it's hard to beat."
The bulk of events for Salute to America take place Tuesday and Wednesday. For a complete list of events, along with other information for things such as parking, visit salutetoamerica.org.