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Orange Beach Mayor Kennon touts ‘Freedom Fest’ event in defiant move against COVID cancellations — ‘The crisis is manufactured’

Earlier this week, the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber and Annual National Shrimp Festival Committee announced it was canceling its 49th Annual National Shrimp Festival that was set for next month in Gulf Shores.

“After weighing many factors surrounding this 4-day event, it has been decided that the health risks to our volunteers in particular; but also vendors, citizens, and visitors are too great and the festival is being cancelled,” a statement said on the National Shrimp Festival website. “This decision is an extremely difficult one, but safety is our top priority.”

The festival in the past has drawn more than 250,000 visitors and an estimated $46 million annual economic impact, which Alabama’s coastal region will be missing out on once again this year.

The decision drew the ire of Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon, whose city is adjacent to Gulf Shores and will also bear some of the impact. Kennon announced the possibility of an alternate event in Orange Beach for when the National Shrimp Festival was originally slated at The Wharf.

During an interview with Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show” on Tuesday, Kennon elaborated on what he had in mind.

“We’ve worked with the Wharf, and we’re going to do something for sure on this Saturday, I think that’s [October 9] of the festival, and maybe even the Friday before,” he said. “We’re still working through the details. Obviously, it’s a short time frame. We’re going to pull it off one way or the other. I don’t know how big it will be, but for me, it’s just about making a statement that we’re not shutting down, and we’re not giving in to this COVID thing.”

“The Shrimp Festival has been around 49 years,” Kennon continued. “And it deserves better than to be canceled. But the Chamber had a legitimate concern. They had a lot of volunteers needed because it is a large production. And a good number of those are over 65 and concerned. I can’t fault that at all, you know?”

Kennon said he wished he had the opportunity to be a part of the cancellation discussions.

“I wish we had been at the table to discuss it because I would have offered up our help and again, a reduced or some kind of scaled-down event,” he added. “But for me, it is something that has just got to go on in some capacity. And we’re going to make it happened.”

“You’ve heard me say it over and over and over — the virus is deadly,” Kennon said. “It is real. But in my mind, the crisis is manufactured. And it is up to us to stop it. Let’s get back to living and if you’re at risk, take the appropriate measures to protect yourself.”

The Orange Beach mayor said he was looking at declaring the event “Freedom Fest” as a statement in defiance of COVID-19 interruptions.

“I think so,” he replied when asked about the moniker “Freedom Fest.” “It’s just about we have the freedom to come and go and do as we please. And I’m not going to have anybody dictating to me personally where I go and what I do. Just not going to do it.”

“[I] fear the loss of American freedom for my children and my grandchildren far more than I fear my death from a virus,” Kennon continued. “And I truly mean that. I think people in America are waking up.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.