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story.lead_photo.caption Jaxon Pitman, 6, waves to his parents on Sunday, July 4, 2021, at the Salute to America Festival while riding a pony. Photo by Gerry Tritz / News Tribune.

Jaxon Pitman, 6, was all smiles as he waved to his parents from on top of a pony during Sunday's Salute to America festival.

The three-day event culminated on the Fourth of July with crowds of people eager to get out from under the confines of COVID-19.

"I'm just happy COVID has simmered down a little bit," Travis Farmer said. "Even though our numbers have gone up, it feels like it's simmered down a little bit."

Travis and Rachel Farmer, Russellville, said they come to the festival every year. They brought Annalynn Farmer, 5; Siearryn Pitman, 9, Jillian Farmer, 11; and Jaxon Pitman.

Annalynn said she was hoping to go to the face-painting booth and get an owl painted on her face.

"Unfortunately we don't have any big rides this year," Travis Farmer said. "They wanted to see the animals and enjoy some things here at the carnival here today."

He said he and the rest of his family like classic cars, and they were headed to the Route 66 Car Cruise in the 200-300 blocks of East High Street.

Event coordinator Penny Smith previously said the carnival company they were working with could not find enough workers to set up and run the rides. Carnival games and an inflatable park were offered instead.

Caitlin Himmel also said her family missed the rides as her son Owen went through an inflatable obstacle course on Capitol Avenue where the rides normally are.

She and several others said this year's event was an improvement from last year, during the pandemic, but not as good as some years before that. She said her family hadn't decided whether to stay and watch the fireworks display or to go back to their hometown of Ashland and watch fireworks there.

At the car cruise, Dennis Smith was showing his 1964 Plymouth Fury but walked across the street to look at a 1956 Chevy Belair and chat with its owner, Larry Rhea.

Both are members of the Mid-Mo Old Car Club.

Smith said many people are infatuated with his car's push-button gear shifting. Many people also tell him they like seeing the car because they grew up with a family car like that.

"I've just always liked old cars," Smith said. "It's a forever thing for me."

The featured band this year was Sounds of Summer, a Beach Boys tribute band, which played before the fireworks on the main stage.

A popular new event, ax throwing, continued on Sunday with competition in the evening.

A WBS Birds of Prey show with a live eagle was also held in the evening.

The festival also featured an Avenue of Americas craft and vendor area, Kids Zone with pony rides and a petting zoo, and Hill of Heroes, which will have demonstrations and information about military and first responder charities and organizations.

"It's busy. I like the crowd I'm seeing today," Festival chairman Doug Hagenhoff said in a mid-afternoon interview. "I tooled around most places and it seemed like there was a good crowd in each spot. There wasn't a street that seemed to be empty."

He said there were no health emergencies, arrests or any other major problems at the festival that he was aware of.

"It's nice to having things looking a little bit like a few years ago," he said. "You can tell people are ready to get out."

Gallery: Salute to America 2021
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