The far-off hiss of an approaching F-15 fighter jet snatched the attention of paradegoers lining Ashland's main drag for a glimpse of its annual and well-known Fourth of July Parade Wednesday.
A burst of whistles, hoots and hollers from the crowd broke like a wave down Siskiyou Boulevard as the jet rumbled through the sky above downtown and banked east over Grizzly Peak, touching off the Ashland City Band's first note and the beginning of the celebration.
The parade's nearly one-mile route was lined with more than 20,000 onlookers watching participants dance, gallop, gallivant and jam out, Ashland's Chamber of Commerce estimated.
"I've heard that it's just great," first-timer Karen Hussey said, grasping a wedge of watermelon on her way to a friend's house to watch the passing panoply.
Hussey, 41, has lived in Ashland for almost three years, she said, but was out of town for the holiday during the past few Julys.
"I'm looking forward to it. People tell me I need to see it," she said.
Ashland Art Center took away Grand Prize among parade entries for its multimobile display representing artistic mediums and local art.
The Freedom Fairy, Janai Lowenstein of Ashland, and flat-ground BMX trickster Dave Nourie, of Ashland, were two of the crowd's favorites.
Nourie, who rode for Haro's professional BMX team in the 1980s, has been in the Ashland parade for the past 10 years, he said.
"I'm doing this for the children," said Lowenstein, holding out her arm to reveal a blue silken wing sewn into her full-fledged fairy garment. "There is a child inside all off us, and that's where the true freedom lies."
Lowenstein, who teaches education classes at the University of Oregon, and is scheduled to teach at Southern Oregon University this fall, was swooping back and forth between the crowded sidewalks belting out an occasional cry of joy during her prance.
"I just imagined that, with my wings, the joy of freedom was going into everybody's hearts, and it was being carried by little fairies," she said after making her run through the route as a first-time participant.
The first of the 82 parade entries left Triangle Park on Siskiyou Boulevard at 10:15 a.m., and the last to leave, "Samba Like it Hot," in its usual raucous style, pounded out funky rhythms from the tail end of the march at about noon.
Thousands of parade-goers followed the group, which averages more than 30 percussionists for a performance, through downtown to the Ashland Plaza, where many split for a day of activates around Lithia Park and the community.
"With the weather being so nice, the streets were full," said Katharine Flanagan, marketing director for the Chamber of Commerce. "We always do our best to make it fun and exciting, and we appreciate everyone's cooperation to make it work."
Ken Wallace, 61, of Ashland, has watched Ashland's Fourth of July Parade more than 30 times, he said, and "it's still genuine."
"The parade is a good reflection of the community "… and Ashland is prideful," said Wallace. "There is a genuine sense of patriotism in this town. I think, for some, it is bleeding red, white and blue, and, for others, it's a yearning of what the country could be."
The parade ran for a little longer than two hours, which may not have been long enough for 5-year-old Colin O'Bryant, of Temecula, Calif., who has watched the event three times visiting his grandma in Ashland.
Candy topped his list of favorites from this year's parade, having picked up at least five or six pieces while crouched along the route.
"I like it "… it's good," he said.
Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.