As if there wasn’t enough color.
It’s no secret that Telluride’s Independence Day festivities are regarded as some of the best of the summer, and this year will be no different. Saturday will be one more unique, creative Fourth of July that brings the town residents and visitors together and helps them forget their problems like no other day can.
Telluride began throwing banging American birthday parties in the late 19th century and the festivities steadily grew until the 1960s. In fact, they became so rowdy that Telluride Fourth of July parades were abandoned for most of the next two decades. But since they were reinstated in the late 80s, the Independence Day parades have proved to be more fun and less chaotic, Lenihan says.
“It's become such a huge event, but the whole thing comes off so smoothly,” he adds. “The parade is a well-oiled machine.”
That might be a testament to three-time July Fourth Committee President Susan McKinney. But Saturday’s events also depend on the 60 or so volunteers – who do everything from decorating the courthouse to policing the streets – that work in the days and weeks leading up to the parade. And that doesn't include the Telluride and Placerville fire departments that host the kids games, barbecue in Town Park and memorable fireworks displays every year.
The tremendous volunteer participation is only one way that the Fourth of July brings the town together. Whereas a big city might charge for mediocre, crowded fireworks, McKinney says Telluriders bring unmatched creativity to an Independence Day event that couldn't happen anywhere else.
“Here, you start way early in the morning. You get to see your friends and neighbors,” she says. “You get to see those fireworks go off in a canyon with no ambient light, and it doesn't cost you anything to sit there and ‘ooh’ and ‘aah.’”
Lenihan agrees that Fourth of July gives the town a chance to let loose.
“I think this year in particular I'm excited for everyone to forget about the economy, to forget about politics, to forget about everything for eight to 12 hours and to celebrate their country and each other,” he says.
It all starts on Saturday morning with the Color Guard ceremony, where attending veterans’ names will be read. According to Lenihan, who has seen the number of veterans at the parade increase from 15 to over 100 in his time as emcee, honoring war heroes is “the most important thing about the Fourth of July.” He adds that one of the most touching Fourth of July moments he can remember was right after the Gulf War: the first time General Normal Schwarzkopf sat with Lenihan to address the Color Guard. This year's parade is dedicated to Schwarzkopf, who will not attend because of health issues.
“He is our local treasure,” McKinney says.
Then the parade will begin with another local personality, this year's Grand Marshal, famed horseman Rowdy Rowdabush. Chosen for his long-time contributions and associations with the town, Rowdabush has been often been a centerpiece of the parade, but this year, McKinney says “he has a really pretty carriage he'll ride in.”
McKinney adds that though floats will not be registered until Thursday or Friday, she can promise some surprises in this year's parade.
“Groups that have taken a hiatus will be back,” she says.
Lenihan hints that one of those groups may be themed dancing and singing sensation, Men Without Rhythm, who, in the past, have been Elvis impersonators and motorcyclists, but have never been boring. Also returning this Saturday are The Whistlers, who will serenade the town behind a 1946 Ford Fire Engine, according to Fire Department Chief Jamie Schuler.
Telluriders can catch a break and some barbecue when they head down to Town Park for the fireman's only fundraiser of the year, which will raise money for the 2010 fireworks show, a scholarship for a graduating senior and upcoming firemen's awards banquets. Schuler says his firefighters always enjoy the festivities and that, rain or shine, “the barbecue will go on no matter what.”
Lenihan says firefighters have always been a fixture in the Telluride Fourth of July celebration. As the party has expanded they have lost some of their responsibilities – the parade, for example – but that doesn't mean they're not right at the center of the day. After all, Schuler says the department has been planning for Saturday since April, including sending out a letter campaign and holding a solicitation night on June 23 to fundraise.
“They've been the cohesive force in this parade for over 100 years,” Lenihan says.
Finally, Independence Day ends with the fireworks show, which Schuler says is especially spectacular because the entire $35,000 budget goes to buying the explosives, not to paying an outside company to put on the program. Fireman Scott Bennett, who is in this charge of this year's fireworks, refused to disclose details about any new designs, but assured that there will be a mix of old and new on Saturday night.
Telluride's Fourth of July is a mix of old mining traditions and a commitment to a good party. It is a summer highlight for businesses and a playtime for kids. And it is definitely proof that a small town can throw a big bash.
“Why should the Fourth of July be small? It's a day to celebrate our country,” McKinney says.