The weekend’s first-ever Kansas FreedomFest attracted thousands of people to Leavenworth’s 10th Avenue Park for a salute to all of those who have donned a uniform as a member of the military, past and present.
The weekend’s first-ever Kansas FreedomFest attracted thousands of people to Leavenworth’s 10th Avenue Park for a salute to all of those who have donned a uniform as a member of the military, past and present. The two days of the festival, which took place Friday and Saturday at 10th Avenue Park in southern Leavenworth, featured food, activities, vendors and music — all with the aim of highlighting and fundraising for veterans’ resources and charities. American Legion Post 23 in Leavenworth served as the sponsoring agency for the event, with the proceeds going to some of its community and veterans programs. Wreaths Across America and Heart to Heart International, which benefited the victims of superstorm Sandy that hit the East Coast little more than a week ago, were also beneficiaries of the festival. According to one of the event’s two directors, Keira Jones, the conditions were mostly right — mostly sunny and temperatures in the 70s — though last-minute adjustments were made after predictions of intense winds and occasional showers. Despite those blemishes, she said she thought the festival went off without many issues and attracted a variety of visitors. “We know we had people from out of state and around-the-state people,” she said. “And all the feedback that we got from people on the grounds was good.” It was the second time that such a festival had been planned — the first was scheduled to take place in 2011, though the planning committee at that time came up short on the necessary funding during the planning process. This year the committee hired professional planners in Good Prairie Events and a professional concert booker who assembled a full slate of regional and national acts, headlined by 70s Southern rock act Marshall Tucker Band; Aaron Tippin, who has had three No. 1 country hits on the Billboard charts; and current country star Clay Walker. They also stoked interest with a kickoff rally in September and a 1940s-style Canteen Gala last month in addition to the graphic-wrapped vehicles that served as mobile advertisements for the festival. “I think it went awesome,” said Keith Melick, current commander of the American Legion Post 23. “It exceeded my expectations, it was a dream come true.” The organizers last week estimated about 10,000 people would attend the festival. Jones said early estimates are that between 5,000 and 6,000 people were in attendance. Jones said there was still a lot of work to do with wrapping up the festival and getting hard numbers on how many people attended and how much money was raised, but she and Melick both said they felt this year was a good start. “It will happen again next year,” Melick said. Jones said in this first year, the organizers worked out a lot of the issues that they were bound to come across, meaning that 2013’s FreedomFest will be that much easier to bring together, and businesses and other groups are already pledging support for another year. “It can just grow from here,” Jones said. “I think people were taken back and surprised that this could happen in Leavenworth. Now that they know it can happen, we just have to make sure we meet those expectations by keeping it great.”