Red, White & Blues week, July 4-8, 2017, is without a doubt one of the best times of year to be in Pensacola. For my money, it’s the highlight of the summer. Not only can you watch in awe as the world famous Blue Angels perform feats of aerial wonder, but you can also enjoy a variety of fun, All-American celebrations leading up to the big air show on Saturday. The festivities are family-friendly and, best of all, most events are free.

The Pensacola Beach Air Show presented by the Santa Rosa Island Authority includes all of the week’s practices and performances by the Blue Angels, the hometown U.S. Navy flight demonstration squadron, as well as Fat Albert and civilian-piloted aircraft. It officially kicks off on Tuesday, July 4th, when beach-goers can get the evening started with live music on the boardwalk followed by fireworks over the Santa Rosa Sound.

Every Tuesday during the summer, Bands on the Beach showcases a musical act from around the region for a free concert from 7 to 9 p.m. Independence Day is no exception, as Johnny Earthquake and the Moondogs will take the stage at Gulfside Pavilion at Casino Beach, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Featuring a 10- to-12-piece band, Johnny Earthquake and the Moondogs bring a diverse repertoire of music to the Gulf Coast all the way from Natchitoches, La. Playing everything from rock and R&B to funk and country, this show band will have the crowd dancing and singing along to familiar favorites.

At Bands on the Beach, spectators fill the sand and sidewalks in front of the pavilion, usually with lawn chairs and blankets. Bring your own food and drink for a memorable picnic dinner. Just be sure to leave glass and pets at home (they’re not allowed). Bonus: If you go to Bands on the Beach, you’ll already have a good vantage point for the 4th of July fireworks show at Pensacola Beach, which begins at 8:30 p.m. on the sound side of the island.

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My friend Greg Threadgill works with Pyro Shows, the company providing fireworks for the beach show, and he has shot fireworks professionally in Pensacola since 1999. “Viewers will be amazed and dazzled by choreographed fireworks shot over the beach,” he says. “Any of the restaurants with water views along Quietwater Beach or the Boardwalk – The Grand Marlin, Hemingway’s, Red Fish Blue Fish, and Flounders, for example – would be a great place to watch the show.”

If you plan to spend the 4th of July in Pensacola or Perdido Key, check out the festivities happening in Downtown Pensacola. For the past 27 years, Sertoma Clubs of Pensacola have hosted the fireworks display over Pensacola Bay, said to be one of the largest on the Gulf Coast. This year is expected to be every bit as fabulous, beginning at 11 a.m. with an all-day party in Old Seville. Free children’s activities include inflatables, a rock climbing wall, face painting and pony rides. There is a hot dog eating contest at noon. Arrive early (and hungry) to sign up! Other food vendors, as well as arts and crafts vendors, are on hand throughout the day. Bring lawn chairs and enjoy live music acts, too. Events take place in Seville Square, Fountain Park and Bartram Park. Complete details and parking information are available at pensacolafireworks.com.

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At 7:30 p.m., patriotic music will fill the air at Hunter Amphitheater at Community Maritime Park, courtesy of the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra. The free Symphony Sparks & Stars show will entertain crowds at the waterfront venue, culminating with the presentation of fireworks at 9 p.m. This event is sure to delight the senses, and what a special tribute to the birth of our nation!

Cars typically line Bayfront Parkway for the fireworks show. The best advice I can give you is to arrive early and be patient with the traffic. Everyone wants to have a fun 4th of July, and there are many ways to enjoy it in Pensacola.

Put on your red, white and blue, fly the stars and bars, and come on out for Red, White & Blues week!