Tranquilize the dog, spread out the blanket and get ready for the night sky to come alive Thursday when Freedom Fair and its fireworks return to Tacoma’s waterfront.
Fireworks shows have been snuffed out all over the country as cash-strapped municipalities have struggled to find the funding for community displays during tough economic times. Seattle was almost one of them until private backers stepped in.
“We were ready to be the big event in Puget Sound, but I’m happy they were able to keep theirs going,” said Doug Miller of the nonprofit Tacoma Events Commission, which puts on the Freedom Fair.
Thursday night’s display caps 12 hours of entertainment along Ruston Way. If the weather is even halfway cooperative, expect to rub elbows with 100,000 of your fellow citizens at the festival.
Live music will run all day on six stages; more than 30 acts will range from rock to the annual Back to Beale Street Blues competition. Highlights include Spike O’Neill from Spike and the Impalers performing with the Fabulous Johnsons; Freddie & the Screamers featuring members of The Sonics and The Kingsmen; Shambala, a tribute to Three Dog Night; Destination Unknown, presented by Ted Brown Music Outreach; and singer Maia Santell.
More than 100 artists, craft vendors and commercial exhibitors will sell or display their wares. Food booths and Ruston Way restaurants will provide more than 50 dining options. “That makes it a bigger food event than the Taste of Tacoma,” Miller said.
Kids will be enthralled by a remote control race-car track set up just northwest of Les Davis Pier. And a fun zone with inflatable toys will be next to Camp Patriot. Kids — and adults — can hone their rhythm skills at a drum circle run by Congo Productions at the east end of Marine Park.
The slightly incongruous but always popular Freedom Fair tradition of pole vaulting will be back for its 18th year. The competition features athletes trying to achieve personal bests.
A rod and custom car show will take place in the parking lot of Duke’s Chowder House. BMX riders will take their bikes through gravity-defying acrobatics in The Ram Restaurant’s parking lot.
Sequestration has changed the makeup of the air show (see story on page A1) but not its length. No current military planes will fly, but organizers have filled the gaps with private acts. It runs from 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Freedom Fair’s fireworks finale begins at 10:10 p.m. Shells ranging up to the size of basketballs will be launched from the fireworks barge, anchored in the bay in front of Katie Downs and aligned on Alder Way.
The largest shells ascend almost a quarter of a mile before bursting. The display will be synchronized to a patriotic and classic-themed soundtrack broadcast from sound systems at the festival and on 98.9-FM.
The volunteer-driven organization that puts on Freedom Fair is once again asking for donations to fund the festival.
“Our resources are stretched two miles long,” Miller said. The city provides $27,000 – about 10 percent of the total cost of the festival. The rest comes from business and community support.
“The donations we have received the past few years have made the difference between breaking even or finishing in the hole. It was critical,” Miller said.
Wings and Wheels, the adjunct festival to Freedom Fair, will be at Tacoma Narrows Airport on July 6. It features an air show, car and motorcycle show, live entertainment, displays, vendors and a jet car. Read more about it in next week’s GO section.
Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541