On the Fourth of July in Aspen, ‘the people are the parade’
Independence Day 2021 skips Main Street parade for stationary spectacle
As far as parades go, Aspen’s Fourth of July iteration this year took an inverse approach: It wasn’t so much a parade of floats as a parade of pedestrians (and many, many two-wheeled modes of transit; the kids bike parade kicked off the festivities at 10 a.m. Sunday, returning after a 2020 pandemic hiatus).
The city flip-flopped the role of spectator and spectacle this year for a “reverse parade” of stationary tents and bands, plus parked classic cars and public safety vehicles to scope out in the downtown core, where several blocks were closed to traffic.
Organizers said it would be more eco-friendly than the traditional Main Street cruise of cars, trucks, floats and marchers; fans of the tradition weren’t so sure the new version would have the same effect. The game-day consensus? Still some fun to be had, even if there was a palpable nostalgia for the before-times of packed sidewalks and goodies flung every which way.
“At first I thought, ‘How’s this going to work?’” said Susan Gomes, a Rotary Club of Aspen member who was lending a hand at the Ducky Derby tent. “But what’s fun is the people are the parade.”
Gomes said town still had a “fabulous energy” with all the passersby in festive outfits.
Her fellow Rotarian Bennett Bramson — dressed head to toe in red, white and blue — said he was grateful for the opportunity to engage with the community and share the spirit of the holiday.
“If there’s any chance we have to engage with the public … it makes a real difference,” Bramson said.
Richard Lyon, a Vietnam veteran who used to be a minister at the Aspen Community Church, said he was hoping for more engagement with the local veteran community this year; typically, they lead the Main Street parade, but that wasn’t the case with this year’s stationary setup.
“It feels strange, very confusing” without the Main Street parade this year, Lyon said.
Decked out in Revolutionary War-style garb, it was his 28th year participating in the Fourth of July festivities; for more than two decades veterans had a spot near the beginning of the parade, and he was missing that this year. Still, he found a way to march on by joining in when the bike parade.
John Field, who joined Lyon at Wagner Park, shared the hope that the parade — and veteran participation in it — will return, especially as the local vet community starts to age out.
“Veterans used to be the main event of the parade,” Field said. “I mean, that’s what it’s all about.”
Mike Tierney, a longtime local, Aspen Highlands ski patroller and rather recognizable unicyclist about town, said he appreciated the “street party” atmosphere but hopes the city will return to tradition in the future.
He had about 20 eager unicycling students who were hoping to ride down Main Street this year; participating in that version of the parade is the goal for some of those learning the one-wheeled way of life.
“It’s a big deal. It’s a really big deal,” he said. A hybrid setup might be a good idea, he suggested; he just wants to “bring back the fun in the parade.”
For her part, this year’s parade grand marshal Katherine Sand felt that there was plenty of fun to go around. The Aspen Family Connections director led the bicycle parade from atop a small modified truck, one of the few motorized vehicles to set wheels on the closed-off section of downtown Sunday morning.
“It was everything that is adorable and lovely about Aspen,” Sand said in a post-cruise phone call, with plenty of young kiddos participating in the bike ride around town and more than one reason to celebrate given the good weather Sunday and the long-run solid vaccination rates in Aspen.
“It was a treat, a real treat,” she said, and “an honor,” too, to be this year’s parade grand marshal, she said.
When her parade-route ride rounded “Paradise Corner” during the bike parade and the Aspen Music Festival and School band began playing a Monty Python song, “it was like I’d died and gone to heaven,” she said.
Sand, who moved to Aspen from the United Kingdom nearly 20 years ago, quipped that has “no qualms” about celebrating Independence Day given her British roots.
“I’m proud to be an American,” she said.
Aspen special events coordinator Sandra Doebler said reverse parade operations were going “pretty smooth” after the day’s festivities kicked off in Wagner Park around mid-morning Sunday.
“I think it’s great there’s so many people in town,” Doebler said.
People, people everywhere was the consensus from Ryan Turner, an assistant police sergeant with the Aspen Police Department.
“Oh gosh, town is insane. … We’re super busy,” Turner said, but “not with anything very interesting.” As of midday Sunday, there was little to report in the way of crime — just crowds.
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A request by the corporate owners of three undeveloped parcels in Aspen Glen to remove a protective bald eagle buffer zone so they can be sold off and eventually built out will go to the Garfield County commissioners with a recommendation for approval.