NAMPA — One of Canyon County’s most successful community events gets its staying power from sponsors and dedicated organizers.
Wednesday’s God and Country Family Festival is in its 44th year. The event typically draws more than 10,000 people. And organizers say another 20,000 or so watch the God and Country fireworks from outside the Idaho Center Amphitheater.
The event includes musical acts, a multi-force swearing-in ceremony for new military members and nonprofit Christian-oriented ministry booths.
“The festival, I think, not only touches the patriotic part of us but the religious freedom that we have,” festival vice president Susan Ness said. “It’s just a lot of great music and a lot of fun.”
The event is free to the public. The event’s value is about $40,000, festival director Patti Syme said. So it relies on donations and sponsors. And the economy has not dampened the support of the God and Country enthusiasts.
“We’ve been amazed at how people have stepped up and supported us,” festival President Carol Andrews said. “Our community gets behind it and they donate towards it. That’s what makes it a free event.”
The event begins just after 5 p.m. at the Idaho Center Amphitheater and ends with a fireworks show at about 10:30 p.m. Andrews says it’s the third best fireworks show in the state.
The God and Country Festival is conducted just before the Fourth of July each year, which lends to its patriotic theme.
“Especially around the Fourth of July patriotism just kind of comes to the forefront,” Syme said.
The God and Country Festival has succeeded for so long because of the people who have served on its board over the decades, Andrews said.
“The board members, who come from all walks of life in our community, have such a passion for the event,” Andrews said. “It’s definitely a tradition, and it’s a tradition we don’t want to see go away.”
The Idaho Center Amphitheater has a capacity of about 11,000 people, and officials may have to close the gate into the arena when they reach that number. The festival often begins to reach capacity at between 8:30 and 9 p.m., so organizers recommend visitors arrive at the event early.
NAMPA — Construction at the Garrity/Idaho Center interchange with Interstate 84 will present traffic challenges for this year’s God and Country Festival.
The Nampa Police Department with support from the Idaho State Police and Idaho Transportation Department have a plan in place to get motorists from the Idaho Center out of the parking lot and on their way home as quickly as possible.
n Just before the fireworks presentation starts (about 10:15 p.m.), the westbound exit ramp for the Idaho Center will be shut down. This will accomplish two things: It will prevent the traffic signal at the interchange from holding up traffic leaving the Idaho Center, and it will ease the amount of northbound traffic on Idaho Center Boulevard.
n Westbound traffic will be limited to the inside lane between the off-ramp and the on-ramp to allow a clear path for traffic leaving the Idaho Center needing to go westbound on Interstate 84.
n Eastbound traffic on I-84 will also be limited to the inside lane between the off-ramp and the on-ramp to allow a clear path for traffic leaving the Idaho Center needing to go eastbound on I-84.
n When the fireworks start, no northbound traffic will be allowed through the underpass at I-84. Eastbound I-84 traffic using the exit ramp at Garrity/Idaho Center boulevards will only be able to turn right (northbound) onto Garrity Boulevard. Traffic coming from the Nampa Gateway Center will have two options: either to go southbound on Happy Valley or turn north on Garrity Boulevard to access the I-84 on ramp to Boise.
n Police officers will be flagging traffic coming out of the Idaho Center, and there will be officers flagging traffic at East Franklin Road and Star Road, Star Road and Cherry Lane, Cherry Lane and 11th Avenue North, and 11th Avenue North and Ridgecrest Drive.
The event, a local tradition with more than 40 years of history, has consistently drawn thousands together to celebrate faith in God and love of country.
The first God and County Rally was held in 1966 after Chuck Connors, star of the televised Western “The Rifleman,” contacted Mayor Ernie Starr and asked Nampa to participate in a nationwide push to promote patriotism by sponsoring a parade.
Starr contacted Charles Wilson of the local Exchange Club, and Parade America was born. The first parade was scheduled for the Wednesday before July 4.
The Nampa Ministerial Association objected to holding the parade on a Wednesday night, when many churches held meetings. Wilson met with the group and planned a God and Country Rally to follow the parade and feature patriotic speeches by local church representatives.
The parade was initially routed through Lakeview Park, with the rally held in the park’s bandshell.
In later years, organizers moved the parade to the third Saturday in May to promote participation by local school marching bands.
The rally continued to grow, and in 2000 was moved to the Idaho Center and renamed the God and Country Festival.
In recent years, the festival has given a platform to many local and national Christian musical acts and well-known speakers.
Local sponsors have helped to keep the event free of admission and open to all.
When the Pentagon issued its flyover denial in 2009, organizers said it was the first time in 42 years the festival would not have a flyover.
The denial led to immediate conjecture that Pentagon policies had changed under newly elected President Barack Obama. The initial story sparked a rush of online attention including chain e-mails, blog and forum postings and hundreds of comments at idahopress.com.
A Pentagon spokesman and Air Force officials close to the decision responded that policy regarding flyovers had not changed.
The festival’s 2009 request contained language tying the event directly to the “Christian community” and raised immediate red flags, officials said. An Air Force spokesman said the application from 2007, the last year the Air Force had processed a flyover request for the event, contained no such language.
Officials cited Department of Defense community relations policy, adopted in 2001, prohibiting support for “any event that provides a selective benefit to any individual, group, or organization, including any religious or sectarian organization, ideological movement, political campaign or organization, or commercial enterprise, to include a shopping mall or motion picture promotion.”
The issue received national cable news coverage on Fox News, and was featured as a discussion item on The O’Reilly Factor.