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Freedom Festival canceled for 2020 due to coronavirus uncertainty

Fireworks light up the Tree of Five Seasons at the finale of 2012's Freedom Festival in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Ga
Fireworks light up the Tree of Five Seasons at the finale of 2012’s Freedom Festival in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Summer in Cedar Rapids and the Freedom Festival have gone hand in hand for 36 years.

The parade. The fireworks. The two weeks of events leading up to Fourth of July. The celebration of Independence Day. Those are hallmarks of Cedar Rapids summer, but not this year.

As with many other events, Freedom Festival has been called off due to uncertainty surrounding coronavirus and to follow social-distancing guidelines, organizers announced on Tuesday.

The news came as a blow for some, such as Don King III, commander of AMVETS Post 6, which leads off the annual parade. He has been active in the festival for past 10 to 15 years, he said.

“It is disappointing, but we saw the writing on the wall,” King said. “It is the right decision, people’s health over money. We enjoy it as much as anyone — without veterans, there is no Independence Day — but we’ll get through this.”

Freedom Festival organizers have been monitoring the spread of coronavirus since mid-March. The Freedom Festival board, in consultation with Linn County Public Health and Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart, decided last week to cancel, said Karol Shepherd, Freedom Festival events and marketing director.

“There has been no indication from what we’ve heard ... that this type of event will be possible by July,” Shepherd said.

Freedom Festival is expected to resume June 17 through July 4, 2021.

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“Freedom Festival is a long-standing tradition in Cedar Rapids that brings our citizens and visitors together to enjoy our community and celebrate our country’s freedoms,” Hart said in a statement. “This year’s festival will yield to the safety of our community due to the coronavirus, but I’m certain Freedom Festival 2021 will be the biggest and best yet. I’m already looking forward to it.”

‘A completely different scenario’

Freedom Festival started in 1985 as a fireworks display over May’s Island in downtown Cedar Rapids and has grown to include 20-some patriotic events produced by the organization as well as several affiliated events.

All Freedom Festival-produced events are being canceled, including the Tribute to Heroes dinner, Balloon Glow, the parade, dockdogs, Freedom Bike Ride, the pancake breakfast and Celebration of Freedom Fourth of July fireworks.

Individual events can draw upward of 10,000 people, and overall Freedom Festival attracts 100,000 people each year, Shepherd said.

Shepherd could not recall the last time Freedom Festival wasn’t held. The festival was threatened in 2008 after the flood, but organizers were able to relocate several of the events, Shepherd said.

“This is a completely different scenario,” she said. “We don’t know when the city will open back up.”

Organizers are exploring moving some events online, such as a virtual bike ride and kids activities, playing the soundtrack already contracted for the fireworks, and perhaps a slideshow made up of submissions of favorite memories and pictures, Shepherd said.

Commemorative 2020 Freedom Festival buttons will be available for purchase beginning May 1 for $5 each at all Hy-Vee Food and Drug Store locations in Cedar Rapids and Marion. Proceeds will help ensure the Festival’s “longevity and ability to return in 2021,” according to the organization.

“Many sponsors have been saying, We are with you, and we will be with you next year,” Shepherd said. “The festival isn’t going anywhere.”

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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