It couldn’t have been a pleasanter morning Friday as thousands packed the Plaza for Sonoma’s famous Fourth of July parade.
Now in its 51st year, the parade has become an institution here, and locals seem to know the drill, parking in the outskirts of downtown and walking into the Plaza area – lining both sides of all four streets, in some places 15-deep – in time for the start of the show.
“The parade has now started, the color guard is now coming around the corner,” announced emcee Susan Scarbrough from the grandstand at 10 a.m. sharp. Soon the flag-bearers marched by as the Hometown Band played, and onlookers removed their hats and clapped.
“We’re here to honor our freedom, and our flag is the symbol of that freedom,” Scarbrough said.
The cheers and fanfare continued as the parade drifted by, with the Grand Marshal float embodying old-fashioned patriotism: a white cart drawn by two big Clydesdales, their manes and tails decorated in red, white and blue.
Soon after came the Native Sons of the Golden West carrying a gigantic American flag which they fluttered before the grandstand. Then the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley arrived, with dozens of kids traveling in, around and behind a San Francisco-style trolley.
This was followed by farmers on tractors, Christian rock bands on trucks and political candidates in convertibles. The restored classic cars and wagons fit right in, with smiling people waving from the running boards.
In one such car, Betty Myers, surrounded by grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, was celebrating her 94th birthday – and half the town sang “Happy Birthday” as she drifted past.
Sonoma’s 2014 alcaldessa (honorary mayor) Suzanne Brangham, circled the Plaza sitting regally in a balloon-filled farm wagon drawn by a Muscardini Cellars truck, while she brandished her ceremonial silver-headed cane.
Leonardo da Vinci put in an appearance on behalf of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, dabbing paint to canvass while kibbetzing with the crowd.
All that was around the Plaza. Inside the Plaza, a separate and parallel celebration was going on, with much of the area dedicated to food, drink, public education, art appreciation and staying in the shade.
A few patriots were hitting the Lost Coast and Lagunitas booths early. Barbecue smoke curled over the grass.
“We’re telling the people about what we do at the Ecology Center,” explained Richard Dale, the group’s executive director, standing in one of the booths behind an array of maps, brochures and animal skulls.
Near the end of the parade, a group of Mexican cowboys named Charros del Valle stole the show, with highly skilled riders wearing elaborate traditional garb and doing fancy rope tricks. Two of the riders in particular amazed onlookers when they stopped their horses and stood upright on the saddles, then jumped through their own spinning lassos.
“This is a nice addition,” said one parade-watcher, watching the riders from a shaded area near the grandstand. “It really adds a lot.”
Charros del Valle wound up taking grand prize in the parade along with first place in the animal category, according to the Sonoma Community Center, which organized the event. Other categories included parade theme (with first place going to Sonoma Theatre Alliance), musical (Never Fear Band), youth (Mentoring Alliance), commercial (Exchange Bank) and general (Sonoma Valley Farmers Guild).
At the parade’s end, a barrage of until-then, well-guarded water balloons descended on the antique fire truck stopped in the intersection of First Street West and Spain Street. Thetwo hoses from the fire truck were unleashed on the crowd in the official “wet zone,” imposed a few years ago after free-flying water balloons rose to the level of a safety concern along the parade route. Delighted children, teens and adults were drenched within moments as curtains of spray descended on the happy crowd.
Mary Catherine Cutcliffe, who as event manager for the Sonoma Community Center was the chief organizer of Friday’s celebration, estimated that around 10,000 people attended.
“The people were at least 10 to 15 deep on both sides of the Plaza, meaning inside and outside. … It was just crazy-big,” she said.
“I think it was great. I think it was truly the best Fourth of July ever.”