For many Utah County residents, the Freedom Festival’s Grand Parade is as much a part of celebrating Fourth of July as fireworks or barbecue — and the fun starts long before the parade does.
By noon on Wednesday, empty chairs were already placed at strategic places along the parade route in preparation for the 9 a.m. Thursday parade. By that evening, tents, canopies, blankets and tables were set up on sidewalks along the University Avenue portion of the parade route by people saving spots for premium seating.
The atmosphere throughout the night is one big party — people bring board games to play, TVs to watch movies on or just hang out with family and friends.
Around 8 p.m., Joey Ruiz and her 15-year-old daughter Jaelyn Ruiz were saving a large space in front of the Wells Fargo building on University Ave. for the family and friends coming later in the evening.
“We have a lot of people coming, family and friends,” Joey Ruiz said. “It’s hard to get everyone together if you don’t camp out, you can’t get a big enough spot.”
The two had already traded off saving the spot with another family member who had gotten there much earlier in the day. While some years the heat is miserable, and they don’t get much — if any — sleep, the two say it’s a fun tradition they plan to continue.
“I think it’s really fun at night time, seeing everyone out and partying all night,” Jaelyn Ruiz said.
Whether they spend the night or choose to battle parking and crowds that morning, about 300,000 people are estimated to line the route at the event each year. The parade has been a standby in Provo for at least 100 years, though the parade did not take place during the World Wars and the Great Depression.
While the floats may vary slightly year by year, this year’s parade featured 15 bands, 20 floats, 50 privately-owned military vehicles representing each war since World War I, and many elected officials including, U.S. Rep. John Curtis, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. Various city floats and high school marching bands also make their annual appearances.
Floats alternated sides of the street to avoid the new UVX bus stations in the middle of University Ave.
The 2019 Grand Parade included many popular standbys, including missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gigantic parade balloons and vehicles and veterans representing American’s major conflicts.
Jennie Taylor and her seven children, plus martial artist Chuck Norris, led off the parade as grand marshals. Taylor is the widow of Maj. Brent Taylor, the North Ogden Mayor who was killed in the line of duty while serving with the Utah Army National Guard in Afghanistan in November. The vehicle carrying her and her seven children received applause along the route.
Parade attendees were thrilled to see Norris. At one point along the route, Norris’ carriage stopped when a man carried his young daughter out to meet him. Other selfie-takers soon swarmed Norris until parade staff got the carriage moving again.
A solo float from Mormons Building Bridges was also in the parade as a salute to LGBTQ+ veterans past and present. MBB was among the five LGBTQ-serving organizations that was originally denied entry to the parade last year, before a press conference and threat of pulled funding led to a compromise where the groups marched in a combined entry.
This year, all those groups who applied were granted entry. Provo Pride, PFLAG and Encircle marched in the pre-parade.