Despite cloudy skies and a shower or two, Cape Coral Parkway was packed with festival goers from Del Prado Boulevard all the way to the foot of the bridge Thursday night for the anxiously anticipated fireworks display.
But the "boom" of Red White & Boom was not the only draw as the parkway began filling shortly after 4 p.m for Independence Day celebrants looking to start the party off with food, drink, live entertainment and the hometown ambiance offered by what has come to be the biggest July 4th celebration in southwest Florida.
"Everyone's happy so far," said Chamber of Commerce President Mike Quaintance as the stage was being prepared for the headline act, teen country sensation Rachel Farley. "We've gone through a lot of water and food.
Thousands enjoy the live entertainment at Red White & Boom this year, held at the foot of the Cape Coral bridge. The annual street party featuring Southwest Florida's largest fireworks display, was title sponsored by RE/Max Realty Team and the city of Cape Coral.
"We expect we're going to hit 17,000-20,000, somewhere in there," he said of crowd estimates.
The annual street party is organized by the chamber and title sponsored by RE/MAX Realty Team and the city of Cape Coral. Nearly three dozen businesses and organizations also chipped in to help make the free community event possible.
Judging from crowd comments, there was plenty to enjoy.
"It's the place to be," said Barbi Sampson as she relaxed near the FOS Furniture booth with friends Brittney Red and Christine Beatty-Davis.
Others echoed that view.
"We went last year and liked it," said Alexis Dehetre, 7, who had gotten her face painted with an American flag.
"We had fun," her grandmother Cheryl Dehetre agreed. "The whole family goes."
For the Smith family, visitors from Kentucky, the event was a pleasant surprise.
"We're down vacationing," said mom Shauna Smith, as Colt, 3, and Riley, 1, took in the festival crowd from a double stroller. "We just randomly heard about it and decided to come. So far, it's pretty cool. We're getting ready to go back (to the Kids Corner) and do the bouncey thing for him."
The weather seemed not to spoil the fun as many were prepared with umbrellas for either sun or summer showers.
"We've heard about it every year and never had a chance to come," said Mary Melendez as she and family members Charlie, Lyric and Elizabeth shared an umbrella during a sprinkle.
For many, it was the pre-fireworks fare that got them out early.
"I think it was the food," said Gisele Riggs, who has been attending Red White & Boom since 2000 when asked why she came out. She really liked the shrimp and grits served up under the VIP tent by Dorado's Dockside Seafood, whose other offerings included gumbo, conch chowder and crispy fish bites served up with a dash of remoulade dipping sauce.
"I think it was the best of the whole thing, the most flavorful meal," Riggs said of the shrimp dish. "And the desserts are really good."
Food, which included everything from burgers, dogs, pizza, wings and more gourmet fare under the VIP tent, and a wealth of choices, including southern greens and barbecue and Greek salads served up streetside, got kudos from a number of attendees.
"The food is awesome this year," said Kynese Agles, a RE/MAX Realty Team Realtor whose 4-year-old son Lincoln was enjoying a hot dog with a side of pizza under the VIP tent. "It's all really good. The salmon was amazing."
That salmon, served with a honey chipolte sauce, jicama slaw and a side of east meets west salad, was dished up by Paradise Deli & Market in the Shops at Surfside.
"Wows," said Chris Angius succinctly when asked for the reaction they were getting to the made-from-scratch, triple offering by the restaurant he owns with his wife, Glee Ann.
"They're coming back for seconds," added head server Lisa Moya as she passed another two packed sampler plates to those lined up at the popular booth.
The shrimp and grits was served up by Dorado's, located in Marina Town in North Fort Myers. Also highly touted was the booth's fish dish.
Bris Shirley one of the cooks at Dorado's, manned a propane fryer behind the station. As flames licked the bottom of the pot, he wielded a pair of tongs and plucked lightly battered fish bites from the bubbling oil.
He was asked how much fish he was planning to cook.
"All of it," he said, and smiled.
"I think everybody has been enjoying it," he added. "They're keeping me busy."
Down at the other end of the food line, volunteers from Not in My City, a church-based youth mentoring group, continued to flip burgers. Other volunteers worked the food line, passing out patties, dogs, buns, soft drinks and water, and an array of tempting pasteries provided by Miz Catherines's A Dessert Cafe.
For the volunteers, the community event is about giving back.
"I love helping," said Tom Riddle, a member of the Not In My City team who took turns at manning the smoking grill in the humid heat. "For what we do, you have to have a servant's heart. It's not what you do, it's what you believe in."
Joselyn Hollow, broker/owner of RE/MAX Realty Team, which has been a title sponsor for the last four years, took a similar view.
"Simply to give back to the community," she said when asked why RE/MAX was again the major sponsor. "We've been very blessed as a business and this is our way of thanking them."
She was once again pleased with the turnout.
"So far so good," she said about an hour before the 9:30 p.m. fireworks. "Every year we try to do something different and top the previous year. I'm very happy."