Those who regularly line the Mississippi River levee for Fourth of July festivities in Baton Rouge know what happens shortly after 6 p.m.
For years, that has been when vintage warplanes appear in the skies, and, for a few moments, it’s World War II again around the USS Kidd.
That’s the way it will be this year, too. The difference is there may be more guns firing from the deck of the World War II destroyer - and the rest of the nation will eventually see it.
This year’s “Star-Spangled Celebration” on Monday, July 4, will include all of the elements that have made it a draw for thousands, including the food and the music. Later on that night, of course, The Advocate and WBRZ-TV sponsor the fireworks spectacular, Fireworks on the Mississippi. But there will be a twist.
The Discovery Channel show Sons of Guns, which features the work of Will Hayden of Red Jacket Firearms in Baton Rouge, will be filming during the mock air-sea battle. This isn’t Hayden’s first experience with this event; he’s contributed his expertise in years past to making the attack look real.
“They’ll see as realistic a demonstration as is safely possible of what it’s like for a vessel to be under torpedo attack from a Japanese aircraft,” Hayden said. “We’ll be closely coordinating with the aircraft when they’re doing their flyovers simulating the torpedo runs. There will be some fire on the ship trying to fend them off.”
What will the TV show feature? Hayden and the show’s executive producer, Patrick Leigh-Bell, are tight-lipped, but the show is about Hayden’s work manufacturing weapons, and the Kidd is a gun-rich environment.
Leigh-Bell said the show will be respectful of the history of the ship, on which 38 sailors died when it was struck by a Japanese kamikaze on April 11, 1945.
“We didn’t just want to come down here and just fiddle with a gun and say, "'Oh, great, look what we did,’” he said. “We wanted to come down here and do something practical and real, and when we realized they had the Fourth of July event and the nature of that event and that it’s a celebration of the ship’s role in defending the U.S., we felt like this is a good way to end our show.”
The mock attack, of course, neither ends nor begins Monday’s show. The day starts at 8 a.m. with the BASF Freedom Mile, a one-mile footrace organized by Club South Runners.
Food and drink booths open at noon, with offerings that include ice cream, pizza, hamburgers, funnel cakes, Cajun cuisine, soft drinks, beer and bottled water.
The USS Kidd Veterans Memorial will be open for touring from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Regular admission will be charged. Patriotic music will be played over loudspeakers until live musical performances begin at 3 p.m. There will be face painting for children from 4 to 9 p.m.
The musical lineup opens with West Bound Train featuring Anita LeBlanc, who will perform a mixture of country, pop, rock and oldies until 4:30 p.m., when Na Na Sha takes over with hits from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s until 6 p.m.
Then, there is a break in the music as the Louisiana Air National Guard conducts a fly-by with an F-15 Eagle jet aircraft. Immediately following, the mock attack on the USS Kidd begins. After that, hot air balloons will perform a liftoff from the levee.
Tunes crank up again at 6:30 p.m. when Slidell native and country music singer Jenny Brooks takes to the stage. Brooks, who also performed at last year’s Star-Spangled Celebration, has appeared in videos airing on CMT and GAC, including “Till I Was A Daddy Too” by Tracy Lawrence and “Let Me Love You” by Lonestar.
At 7:45 p.m., country singer Jett Williams - daughter of legendary singer Hank Williams - performs selections off of her latest CD, Honk! as well as other country classics.
Then, at 9 p.m., comes the main event, “Fireworks on the Mississippi.” For a truly front row seat, the fireworks can be viewed from the decks of the USS Kidd. Tickets are $10, and a limited number are available at the USS Kidd gift shop. For information, call (225) 342-1942.
No ice chests, barbecue pits, tents or pets are allowed on the festival grounds.
Sponsors include Baton Rouge Coca-Cola Bottling, Mockler Beverage, McDonald’s of Baton Rouge, PCS Nitrogen, Entergy, Mac-Nett Industries, Hollywood Casino, the Baton Rouge Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, William T. Barnhouse, AT&T, Louisiana Lottery, Roco Rescue and Direct Auto Insurance.