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Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival launches events at a distance

Balloons are filled with hot air at dusk during the 2019 Cedar Rapids Balloon Glow along the Sinclair Levee in the New B
Balloons are filled with hot air at dusk during the 2019 Cedar Rapids Balloon Glow along the Sinclair Levee in the New Bo District. While the 2020 festival has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several signature events are moving online. Alisabeth Von Presley, slated to headline this year’s Balloon Glow, will instead perform a Facebook Live concert at 7 p.m. Tuesday on the Freedom Festival’s Facebook page. (Ben Roberts/Freelance)
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While the 2020 Freedom Festival isn’t the perfect vision organizers had in mind, they’ve spent the COVID-19 spring quarantine reshaping a new virtual view, with a couple of in-person, socially distant events.

The annual hunt is on for the elusive medallion, hidden somewhere in the Cedar Rapids metro area. The finder will be the keeper of a $500 Hy-Vee gift card. A new clue will be revealed daily beginning today (Monday) on the Freedom Festival’s website and Facebook page, as well as during the KCRG-TV newscasts.

“That’s one of our favorite events every year,” said Karol Shepherd, the festival’s events and marketing director. “Some people take off work to go and get the clues ... to try and find the medallion.”

The clues get easier, she added, until the 4-inch acrylic disc is located.

“We’re very excited to announce that that is returning, and you can do that socially distanced,” she said. “We’re already encouraging people to explore the Cedar Rapids metro area — the parks, the trails, those kinds of things.”

If you’re part of the hungry horde that flips over Freedom Festival flapjacks, never fear. Just hop in your car between 8 and 10 a.m. Saturday and head to the ImOn Ice Arena parking lot, 1100 Rockford Road SW, Cedar Rapids.

“This is another one of our signature events,” Shepherd said, noting that the date and site have changed from previous years, when the breakfast was served on July 4 at the Veterans Memorial Building downtown.

But chefs from Built By Pros and Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades still will be cooking at the new site, and packaged meals will be offered drive-through style this year. Cost is $5, cash only. Each meal also includes a 2020 Freedom Festival button with a Hy-Vee coupon book.

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While most of the commemorative items hadn’t been ordered before the festival was canceled, 40,000 buttons had been. They are available at Cedar Rapids and Marion Hy-Vee food stores, and help fund the annual nonprofit festival.

“A lot of people just assume that we are the city of Cedar Rapids, and we’re not,” Shepherd said. “We are a separate entity. We’re a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and so we are the ones that do financially bear the fireworks and all of the events that go on around the Fourth of July for the city.”

Rally CAP Rally Cards also will be distributed at the breakfast, as part of a separate initiative to support local businesses and attractions.

“We’re hopeful that lots of people will drive through and get just a little bit of a feeling of normalcy this year,” Shepherd said.

Several other major attractions are moving online or on-air this year.

Cedar Rapids singer/songwriter Alisabeth Von Presley, slated to rock the Balloon Glow stage, instead will perform a Facebook Live concert at 7 p.m. Tuesday on the festival’s Facebook page.

A Mediacom Watch Party will light up Facebook Live at 7 p.m. July 1, with a video showcasing festival history, interviews, music, photos, sponsor shout-outs, and clips from the 2019 parade and fireworks.

The hourlong program also will include an inspirational message from legendary University of Iowa quarterback, professional player, coach and commentator Chuck Long. He had been scheduled to present the keynote speech at this year’s Tribute to Heroes dinner, which would have launched the festival on June 18. The local heroes had been chosen, but not notified, Shepherd said, so they will be honored in 2021.

If you miss the Watch Party’s debut, you can catch it later on the festival’s Facebook page.

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And even though the July 4 festival finale won’t be bursting over downtown Cedar Rapids, KCRG-TV Channel 9.2 will spend the day showing “blast from the past” footage from previous parades and fireworks, from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Instead of working from 6 a.m. to midnight July 4, the holiday will be much more subdued for Shepherd and Carissa Johnson, the festival’s executive director.

“It’s so hard to imagine not being downtown,” Johnson said. “It’s like an 18-hour day, easily, and it’s exhausting — it’s always the hottest day of the year, of course. You’re just so tired from the past few weeks of the festival, but it’s also so rewarding.

“When the fireworks go off, I always get the feeling of, ‘I did this. I built this, I helped create this for the past year.’ You just get goose bumps. It’s gonna be so strange that I’m gonna be at home, sitting on my couch watching fireworks, probably on TV.

“But I know we’re just going to use this time to maybe reinvent ourselves and re-create what the festival is, and get feedback from our community and our sponsors.

“Next year might be a little different, but in a good way,” Johnson said. “It’s always good to grow and change and evolve as necessary. We’re just really going to use this time to reflect on what the new festival is.

“So it’ll be a weird Fourth of July, but we’ll be back next year.”

The 2021 festival is set for June 17 to July 4.

Shepherd added that canceling this year’s event “was a big decision, not one that came lightly. It was heart-wrenching to have to make that call, but it was for the safety of the community, and really now, looking back, it was the right call, for sure.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

Freedom Festival 2020 virtual events

Medallion Hunt: begins Monday in Cedar Rapids metro area; clues at freedomfestival.com, facebook.com/CRFreedomFestival and during KCRG-TV newscasts; prize is a $500 Hy-Vee gift card

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Balloon Glow Virtual Show: With music by Alisabeth Von Presley, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Facebook Live, facebook.com/CRFreedomFestival.

Drive-Thru Pancake Breakfast: 8 to 10 a.m. Saturday, ImOn Ice Arena parking lot, 1100 Rockford Rd. SW, Cedar Rapids; $5 per meal, cash only

Mediacom Watch Party: 7 p.m. July 1, Facebook Live, facebook.com/CRFreedomFestival.

KCRG Freedom Festival Flashback: Past parades and fireworks, 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. July 4 on KCRG 9.2

Details: freedomfestival.com

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