116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Tribute to Heroes, DockDogs, Balloon Glow, Imagination Square, Voices of Hope, and the July 4 pancake breakfast — so many Freedom Festival favorites are back in full force, but you won’t find them where they’ve been in recent years. They’re on the move.
“The festival is returning, but is going to look differently,” said Karol Shepherd, the festival’s executive director. “A lot of that is because of the great work that’s happening in Cedar Rapids with all the construction projects.
“And so we’ve had to get creative this year in a lot of its location changes. We’re hoping the community will be flexible and understanding and patient with us.”
With events happening from June 14 to July 4 — and even a couple of affiliated events extending after that — it’s easy to spend a day or two or even three weeks exploring festivities in Cedar Rapids and Marion.
Admission to most events is free with a $5 Freedom Festival button, available at Cedar Rapids and Marion Hy-Vee Food Stores and Casey’s General Stores. Kids ages 8 and under don’t need a button, and veterans can stop by the Freedom Festival office, 609 First Ave. SW, Suite 102, to receive a free button.
Some of the new site locations also come with date changes.
Tribute to Heroes
The Tribute to Heroes dinner is returning to an in-person event, from 6 to 9 p.m. June 17 at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center, 7725 Kirkwood Blvd. SW. Tickets are $55, available through June 10 at freedomfestival.com/tribute-to-heroes-tickets/
This year’s heroes — barbecue chef Willie Ray Fairley, who continues to provide free food after natural disasters; veterans community volunteer Robert Feiereisen; and Bridge Under the Bridge free meals founder Bridgette Williams-Robinson — will be honored at the dinner and serve as parade marshals June 25. Keynote speaker is Clarissa Chun, the first University of Iowa women’s wrestling coach.
Balloon Glow — which has bounced from Brucemore’s front lawn to the Sinclair Levee in NewBo to Hawkeye Downs — is landing in Jones Park from 5 to 10 p.m. on the first Saturday of Freedom Fest, June 18, which is at least a week earlier than in most years. It’s also becoming a ticketed event, at $5 for ages 9 and up, and free for ages 8 and under.
“We’ve found, hopefully, our new home for Balloon Glow,” Shepherd said. "It’s about 100,000 square feet, so it’s bigger than Brucemore.“
Emerging from the pandemic, no capacity limits have been set, but with the larger footprint, Shepherd is hopeful “that people can come and enjoy and spread out” in the natural amphitheater. Parking is limited, but shuttles will run from the Kirkwood Continuing Education Training Center, 101 50th Ave. SW, to the park.
The event will feature eight tethered hot-air balloons on the ground, Great American Kites in the sky, and food vendors. Attendees also can bring their own food and beverages in soft-sided coolers.
Prestige Dance Company will take the stage at 7 p.m., and The Breakfast Club, an ’80s cover band, will play from 8 to 10 p.m.
“I think it’ll be a big party,” Shepherd said. “It’ll be a really great night.”
For details and a ticket link, go to freedomfestival.com/events/balloon-glow-great-american-kites/
DockDogs and Dueling Dogs competitive canine aquatic events are ready to make a splash from June 22 to 26 at a new location: Kingston Stadium’s north fields, 907 15th St. SW. The three main jumping events are Big Air, Extreme Vertical and Speed Retrieval.
Viewing is open to the public, as well as canine companions. Hours vary; registration begins at 5 p.m. June 22, along with Try DockDogs, limited to 15 participants.
“For $10 you can bring your dog and have some time on the dock with a DockDogs crew member, and the dogs can see if they have interest in jumping into the pool,” Shepherd said, noting that each session usually lasts about 10 to 15 minutes. “From there, we’ve had some dogs immediately fall in love with the sport and go on to compete in future years.”
Admission is free for spectators all day June 23 and until 5 p.m. June 24; Freedom Festival buttons are required for ages 9 and up at other times. For competition details and daily schedules, go to freedomfestival.com/events-calendar/ and click on the corresponding photo.
Parade & Imagination Square
The parade and Imagination Square will be held downtown on June 25, instead of NewBo and Czech Village, because of ongoing flood mitigation work there. After planning the move, Shepherd found out flood work is beginning around the Third Avenue Bridge downtown, so the usual parade route will be one block shorter.
“We had to be kind of creative with that route,” she said. “We have to be flexible these days. A lot of what’s happening right now in downtown Cedar Rapids is all great stuff. It’s going to be good for the community.”
The parade begins at 10 a.m. on Sixth Street SE, turns down Second Avenue to Second Street (instead of First Street), and travels back up Third Avenue, ending around the corner at Greene Square.
Imagination Square will fill up Greene Square from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Presented by Tanager Place, the event will feature free family friendly activities, a bouncy house, trackless train rides, junior firefighter challenge, face painting and more.
Festivities continue there from 2 to 8 p.m., with the VOLTA Youth Music and Arts Festival, presented by the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy. Admission is free with Freedom Festival button.
“So Greene Square is going to be the hub of activity on June 25,” Shepherd said.
Voices of Hope
This hourlong event, beginning at 7 p.m. June 28 and 29, is moving to Marion United Methodist Church, 5050 REC Dr., Marion. The free concert features patriotic music and narration drawing on hymns, folk songs, new music, classic poetry, prose and Scripture, as well as recognition of veterans and civil servants. June 28 includes the Oath of Enlistment Ceremony for new military recruits.
Laser Light Show
New this year is a Laser Light Show at Hawkeye Downs, 4400 Sixth St. SW. Gates open at 8 p.m., with grandstand seating and concessions. Outside food and drink are not allowed. The show, produced by Laser Encore, will begin shortly after dusk, and Festival buttons are required for ages 9 and up.
Shepherd and her family saw one of the company’s shows and loved it so much that she called to see if they would come to Cedar Rapids.
“It should be a great night,” she said. “I’m really excited to introduce a new event to the festival this year.”
All of this momentum builds up to the big day — the festival finale — beginning with the ever-popular pancake breakfast.
This traditional kickoff to Fourth of July festivities moved to a drive-by format during 2020 and 2021, with flapjack flippers rolling up their sleeves and drivers rolling down their windows outside the ImOn Ice Arena, 1100 Rockford Rd. SW.
This year, you can drive right up to the arena, hop out of your vehicle and stroll inside to fill up on all-you-can-eat pancakes, as well as sausage links, a banana, granola bar and orange juice. No worries about slip sliding away — you won’t be walking on the ice.
The event runs from 8 a.m. to noon, and breakfast is $6 or $5 if you’re wearing a Freedom Festival button. The Vintage Jammers will jam out on Dixieland, blues and jazz indoors, and the Classic Car Show will be parked in the Kernels parking lot.
“That'll be great to get that back in person this year. And then of course, we turn our sights on to downtown Cedar Rapids for the rest of the day. We’re shutting down a lot of the streets around noon on the Fourth of July, so just keep that in the back of your mind when it comes to coming downtown,” Shepherd said.
The launch site is returning to the First Avenue Bridge. “So, of course, the best seats in the house will be on the Second Avenue Bridge,” Shepherd noted.
Music is back at the nearby McGrath Amphitheatre, 475 First St. SW, which also affords excellent fireworks viewing.
Entry to the bridge and amphitheater begins at 6 p.m., and is free with a $5 Freedom Festival button for ages 9 and up. Kids ages 8 and under do not need a badge, and the first 500 kids ages 12 and under will receive a free activity bag.
The music at McGrath starts at 7 p.m. with the Marion High School Show Choir, followed by the Johnny Holm Band.
The fireworks extravaganza, designed by J&M Displays of Yarmouth, begins at dark. Radio station Z102.9 will provide the soundtrack, which will be broadcast through loudspeakers downtown, as well as on the radio and the station’s app.
Food and beverage vendors will be stationed on the bridge and in the amphitheater, and the bridge will have a modified Family Fun Zone, with face painting, balloon twisting and a strolling juggler from Denver, Colo.
Soft-sided coolers are allowed on the bridge, but not in the amphitheater. Pets and personal fireworks, including sparklers and “snakes,” are not allowed.
The Third Avenue Bridge is not part of the Freedom Festival fireworks venue.
Flag Day, June 14, features a flag retirement ceremony from 6 to 6:30 p.m. in the Linn Hall parking lot by the main entrance to Kirkwood Community College, 6301 Kirkwood Blvd. SW. If you have a flag to retire, Shepherd said VFW Post 788 has a drop box at its office, 3240 Southgate Place SW.
For information on other festival and affiliated events, from various concerts and log carving to ski shows, yoga and the Marion Airport fly-in/drive-in breakfast, go to freedomfestival.com/events-calendar/
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