Happy 2nd of July!

July 1, 2010

What sets hard-core St. Louisans apart from the rest of us is this: True natives will brave the heat of summer for the VP Parade. The rest of us will wait for a cooler holiday — say, Mardi Gras — to make our parade appearances.

But I’m looking at the forecast and thinking I can stomach the heat this year, especially if we plan to arrive early and get the prime viewing spots right along CityGarden at Ninth and Market. The parade starts at Fourth and Washington around 10 a.m. and travels toward the end point at 20th and Market, so the plan is to arrive early with a box of donuts, let the kids play awhile, then sit down, relax and watch the parade pass by.

It looks like it will be a good one, too — marching bands (always my favorite), floats, helium balloons and “unique vehicles,” whatever that means. One hundred units total, stretching five miles in length. And, of course, it’s the kickoff to Fair St. Louis, the free event under the Arch. Even a non-native can appreciate those concerts and fireworks after the hot sun goes down.

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My impending 20-year class reunion has me thinking a lot about high school, and one of my absolute favorite activities was marching band. I was terrible at it — I could barely play the clarinet seated and reading music, let alone stepping down the street trying to stay in line and recall the memorized notes all at the same time. But it was so much fun to be in a parade! I hope the 16 marching bands at this year’s Veiled Prophet Parade have the time of their lives.

The bands and 80 or so other units step off at 10 a.m. Saturday (July 4) downtown, heading south on Fourth Street from Washington Avenue and turning west at Market. There are sneak preview videos of the floats on the homepage (under “Media only”), and there’s a nice historic overview video from KETC too.

But as fabulous as the VP Parade and Fair St. Louis are, they’re one of many great options for enjoying Americana this weekend. In fact, one of the hardest decisions of the weekend (aside from when to start the grill!)  will be whether to go downtown or head over to the Webster Groves Community Days parade, also scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday (July 4) and also featuring up to 100 units.  No sneak previews are available, but I can tell you that the Budweiser Clydesdales will be leading the parade. It starts at Lockwood and Selma, heads west to Gore, returns east for a couple of blocks along Big Bend, crosses under Interstate 44 on Elm, and finally ends at the fairgrounds in Memorial Park.

Out in O’Fallon, Mo., the parade starts at 9:30 a.m. on the Fourth, as part of the Heritage and Freedom Festival. The two-mile route starts at Third and Main, continues north along Main to Tom Ginnever Ave., and ends at T.R. Hughes Ballpark.

Whichever parade you attend, clap loudly for the bands and wave at the woodwinds in the back, paying no attention to the music and having a good old time watching you.

If you’re disappointed that Fair St. Louis and the fireworks will be at two separate venues this year, take heart! Your options are all good.

Option 1: Stay at Fair St. Louis‘ new home due to the flooding Mississippi, the Soldiers Memorial Plaza at 14th and Market streets. We’ve watched the fireworks from a distance before (back when the Anheuser-Busch brewery let locals park on its main headquarters lot) and the displays were just as evocative and spectacular — and a little less frightening for kids who’re not into loud explosion noises. (The accompanying music can be heard at 102.5 KEZK.)

Option 2: Head to the Arch grounds anyway. The National Park Service will open the grounds to spectators (the usual checkpoints will apply) but there won’t be any vendors, music or other activities.

Option 3: Go somewhere else. There are excellent festivals throughout the region — KMOX radio has a comprehensive listing for both Missouri and Illinois metro communities at its homepage. I’d like to note especially that the band Joe Dirt plays the O’Fallon, Mo., Heritage and Freedom Fest at 12:30 p.m. Joe Dirt is a local rock cover band with an engaging stage presence and a repertoire whose roots couldn’t go any further into the American heartland. Some of the festivals are one- or two-day affairs, but Webster Groves’ Community Days starts on July 1 and runs through the Fourth.

The St. Louis fireworks display will blast off from its usual spot on the river at 9:45 p.m. July 4 and 5. And don’t forget the Veiled Prophet parade Friday morning at 10 a.m., coming south on Fourth Street and turning west on Market, with Union Station as its ending point.