Organizers say this year's America's Freedom Festival at Provo will bring the focus back to where it should be: America's independence.
Although the festival's crown jewel, the Stadium of Fire, has been billed as the largest Utah statehood centennial celebration of 1996, officials hope the July 4 extravaganza doesn't veer far from its fundamental purpose."It's going to be a powerful celebration of the country's birthday," said Ron Clark, Freedom Festival vice president. "We're not going to forget about the (centennial) entirely, but it's still going to be America's birthday party."
Clark said the spirit of patriotism is at the heart of every festival event, and that's what makes the monthlong celebration so popular with Utah County residents.
"I've never seen a community that responds to patriotism like this one does. It's an enormous effort that allows even one of the events to take place."
In fact, the festival will have nearly 30 events between June 10 and July 6. Activities range from tennis and softball tournaments to picnics and fireworks.
One of the most popular Freedom Festival events is the baby contest, scheduled for Wednesday, June 26, at Timpview High School. More than 1,000 Utah County babies up to 36 months old enter the contest and Baby Olympics each year.
While the babies do much of the work, the parents are the ones who seem to have a corner on the fun - and the prizes. This year, more than 120 prizes will be given to parents of the babies who best fit the theme: "Utah babies: The next 100 years - to boldly go where no baby has gone before."
Organizers expect babies to
show up in costumes ranging from pioneers to Star Trek characters. Pre-registration is $7.50; parents can find out more by calling the baby contest hotline at 222-9494.
This year's patriotic service is slated for Sunday, June 30, at 7 p.m. at the Marriott Center on the campus of Brigham Young University. Organizers say Gov. Mike Leavitt and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Council of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will speak, and a 2,000-voice choir of Utah County elementary schoolchildren will sing.
Freedom Festival action picks up in earnest at 5:30 a.m. on July 4, when pilots and crews of more than 30 hot-air balloons prepare to take flight. Balloonists will participate in a three-day competition in which a "hare" balloon will lead the rest of the group, called hounds, on a chase. Hounds are awarded points on their accuracy in bombing a grounded target with bean bags.
The Freedom Festival's banner events - the Grand Parade and the Stadium of Fire - attract hundreds of thousands each year. Long billed as the largest fireworks display in the country, the Stadium of Fire now limits its claim to second-largest.
"It has been the largest annual fireworks show for more than 15 years until a new springtime annual event in Tennessee barely superseded it last year," said Randy Beckham, Freedom Festival executive director.
Stadium of Fire officials, however, are quick to point out the extravaganza is still the biggest combined entertainment/-fireworks show in the nation. Donny Osmond, Kurt Bestor and Salt Lake's Calvary Baptist Choir will provide entertainment.
Amid all the hoopla, participants and patrons of America's Freedom Festival will maintain their focus on America's freedom, officials say.
"There's going to be a huge patriotic renewal," Clark predicted.