4th is first in Coralville

BY NAT ALDER | JULY 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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Tonight kicks off Coralville’s annual 4thFEST, a citywide festival dedicated to celebrating the Fourth of July through a myriad of events and activities: a free concert (Jefferson Starship, 6:30 p.m. today at Morrison Park), a parade (10 a.m. Friday), and, of course, fireworks.

Now in the middle of its fourth decade, the festival is assembled by a determined group of community members, including Paula Bakey, co-head of the 4thFEST Committee. She oversees a number of subcommittees but not without relative ease.

“Our group has been together for so long, [the members] know exactly what they’re doing,” Bakey said. “We just make sure it gets done.”

The fate of the festival’s annual resurgence hinges primarily on one factor: fundraising, she said.
“4thFEST is all put together through fundraising,” Bakey said. “It’s not exclusively city-sponsored; it is a sponsor, but it is not the sole sponsor.”

Every year, the 4thFEST Committee holds a Basket Auction, in which businesses from in and around Coralville and Iowa City donate gifts that are then bid on by attendees of the auction. The donated gifts range from hotel rooms to upscale birdhouses. This year, the average price for a basket was $12,000.

Today’s concert in Morrison Park opens with the band the Recliners at 6:30 p.m., followed at 8:30 p.m. by ’70s psych-rock group Jefferson Starship (not to be confused with Jefferson Airplane, from which Jefferson Starship spawned; and Starship, which somewhat confusingly branched off from tonight’s headliners.) Bakey is confident both bands will be greeted with great attendance.

“We really do get good turnouts,” she said. “Even the one year it rained, we had Kansas, and we had people of all ages come out for it. Even teenagers. You’d think they’d want to be elsewhere, but they were standing out there in the rain, dancing, having fun.”

Past years acts have included .38 Special and Charlie Daniels. In 2001, the first year Bakey was on the committee, Three Dog Night played.

“The turnout was massive,” she said. “Every square inch was filled all the way to City Hall. It was thought to be anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 people. There were so many people there.”

At 10 a.m. on Independence Day, 4thFEST marches on with its annual parade. The front float? The Grand Marshalls, this year designated to ex-Mayor of Coralville Jim Fausett and wife Carol, as well as the Parade Marshall, none other than Herky the Hawkeye (reprising his role — he was Parade Marshall 10 years ago). There are 120 entries for the floats, the theme for which is “Slide into Coralville." Bakey said there is a small amount of contention among some floats.

“Everybody wants to be up front — everybody does,” she said. “And this political party doesn’t want to be next to this one, but they want to be ahead of each other. Everybody’s going to see you at some point.”

Keith Jones of Hills Bank and his coworkers have participated in the parade for 30-plus years.

“The bank has been involved in the parade ‘forever,’ ” he said. “We always try to come up with some goofy float. I’ve been in a bathtub a couple times. One year, the theme was paradise, and I was bare-chested in a hula skirt. That was the craziest, probably.”

At dark, the fireworks will begin.

“[The fireworks] have always been truly the best in the area,” Bakey said. “It is put on by our Coralville Fire Department. They’re all trained and certified, they know what they’re doing, they know what to look for.”

Rex Brandstatter has been the color analyst of the parade (working for CoralVision Channel 5) and has assisted in its live broadcast for 12 years. He believes that the festival is quintessential for Iowans.

“It’s an iconic Fourth of July parade,” Brandstatter said. “It’s on our level, and we like it.”

Bakey believes the festival has a unifying quality.

“It’s a time when it doesn’t matter your politics, your nationality, your skin color, your income level,” she said. “We’ve all got one thing in common: We’re going to listen to music, celebrate the founding of our country, and have a good time.”

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