Flashback: Late Summer 2008. The Evansville Freedom Festival board has an upheaval and decides to split in two. The Freedom Festival featuring Thunder on the Ohio will become the Freedom Festival in mid-June and Thunder on the Ohio in August.

Flashback: Summer 2009. The Evansville Freedom Festival, presented by the Growth Alliance for Greater Evansville (GAGE), flops. According to reports in local media, the Growth Alliance lost $300,000 on the festival. Thunder on the Ohio takes place to a smaller than average crowd.

Flashback: Summer 2010: The Evansville Freedom Festival, again presented by GAGE is reduced to a fireworks show on July 4. Thunder on the Ohio is canceled because the board has insufficient money to bring in the "Unlimited Hydroplane" boats which were a fixture in Evansville for 30 years.

Flashback: Fall 2010: The mayor and the Hadi Shrine jointly announce that the Shiners will be taking over planning for the 2011 Freedom Festival, and that the US Navy's Blue Angels will be a part of the show for the first time in 7 years.

Present: The Blue Angels ended up canceling last-minute due to internal problems, but the festival went on. The price dropped 100% from 2009, and the crowd seems to have gone up by 100%. The thing is, there is actually less to do than there was in '09. GAGE brought in a major amusement ride company which operated noon to midnight. That space is occupied this year by the Budweiser Clydesdales, each horse in an individual cage about 10 ft by 10 ft. GAGE had river races, a dog talent show, a BBQ competition, a queen contest, and major concerts (Billy Currington, the Kevin Bacon Band).

All of that: gone. This year's Shrinerfest had smaller regional entertainers from Indianapolis and Nashville. Mike Harvey, a syndicated radio disc jockey appeared to be the headlining entertainment.

But! There were several hundred more people at Mike Harvey's "sock hop" than were there for Billy Currington two years ago!

Ladies and gentlemen, the power of free. If my memory serves me, the best tickets for Currington were $125. The cheapest tickets were $15. The Mike Harvey appearance was underwritten by a Bierstube with a $5 cover, but there was no admission charged if you weren't inside the fenced-off beer garden.

What it boils down to is the fact that the Shriners understand the community better than GAGE did. Even though the attractions are of a lesser grade than the GAGE festival had, the crowds are better despite similar weather. There's no way the Shrine will lose $300,000 this year.