No fireworks, but Rifle Independence Day celebration still a bang |

No fireworks, but Rifle Independence Day celebration still a bang

Symphony in the Valley conductor Kelly Thompson directs his musicians.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

One ace violinist couldn’t make it because of another mudslide in Glenwood Canyon. The fireworks display, of course, was canceled because of fire restrictions.

None of that mattered.

Symphony in the Valley’s performance still entertained visitors of Rifle’s Independence Day kickoff concert in Centennial Park on Saturday with just the bang they needed. Noodle Soup, the Symphony’s small band, opened up.

“I’m just really excited to get together with the group and play these patriotic favorites,” valley violist Amanda Watkins said right after rehearsals. “This is an annual event for us, and we didn’t get to do it last year because of COVID.”


“It’s great to be back playing for this special concert that we typically do on the third of July in Rifle every year,” Watkins said.

Homages to John Philip Sousa, George Gershwin and anthems to each branch of the U.S. military were, to no surprise, performed with acute, harmonic delivery by the area’s lovely little orchestra.

Symphony of the Valley violist Amanda Watkins prepares to play during a performance.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

But Watkins has a favorite.

“I would definitely say the ‘Star Star-Spangled Banner’ because we have an amazing singer,” she said of Symphony in the Valley singer Sharon Young. “She’s actually opera-singer trained.”

A Symphony in the Valley trombonist hard at work.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Bear in mind that live performances for Symphony in the Valley have been slightly limited, to say the least.

After being canceled all summer in 2020, their only sets have included an observance to Ludvig Van Beethoven’s 250th birthday in October 2020, a holiday concert in December 2020, a young composers concert in March and then a symphony swing concert a couple of weeks back.

“Our first concert of the year is going to be in October — our fall concert,” Watkins said of this year’s schedule. “Then we’ll do one in December for our holiday concert. Then probably one in March and then May for Mother’s Day.”

Symphony in the Valley performs in Centennial Park.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Perhaps the Symphony’s triumphant return to Rifle is why it accentuated the experience for concertgoer and Rifle Middle School social studies teacher Randalea Milhorn.

“We’re still not finished with the horrible COVID-19 pandemic, but after living through that as a teacher and being in the classroom from the beginning of last year, being in the classroom live with children wearing masks every day … it is so wonderful to be here, and I don’t see a mask anywhere,” she said.

Gary Miller puts his feet up to enjoy a concert performed by Symphony in the Valley.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent
A concertgoer wears American flag socks.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Milhorn was wearing an American-flag-colored shirt.

“My shirt is something appropriate for school, which I teach at sixth grade at Rifle Middle School — social studies,” she said. I have to teach him things that are appropriate, and it’s also celebrating a wonderful country, which I don’t think there’s anything like it anywhere in the world.”

If anything, there was nothing like Centennial Park on this blue horizon Saturday evening.

An ice-cream truck offered people a sweet reprieve from a post-monsoon humidity and sunshine. Another vendor sold slices of pepperoni pizza freshly baked from a portable wood-fired oven. Children waited impatiently for the next spurt of cool water at the splash pads.

A gleeful kid enjoys a cool down in the splash pad at Centennial Park.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

The Rifle Police Department showed off its new K9 and handed out glow batons. The Colorado River Fire Rescue district set up a tent and tried to attract new volunteers.

“And I see children and I see their parents and I see them celebrating like we used to do, but especially celebrating with music, festivities, incredible traditions,” Milhorn said. “I teach my students about our culture, and our culture involves traditions of music and many other things that we celebrate here, and I think our patriotism is a wonderful part of our country.”

Earlier in the day, the city of Rifle also set up a small neighborhood of water bouncy houses, a dunk tank and a bubble tower beside the Metro Pool.

A kid plays with bubbles dispensed from a bubble tower.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent
A kid enjoys one of the inflatable water slides at Metro Park.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Silt resident Pier Rivera brought his granddaughter to have fun.

“This is pretty nice. There’s not a lot for kids nowadays,” he said.

The foot of a man emerges on a glass window of a dunk tank.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Later, when the Symphony took the stage underneath a high wood-panel awning adorned with a large American flag, Milhorn was asked what she looked forward to most.

“As the sun goes down, then our day cools off,” she said. “Just seeing the many faces — many of whom I know. I see doctors, I see lawyers. I see lots of parents. I see other teachers. … It’s wonderful.”

An instrument is used as a vase to hold American flags.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or

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