America’s Freedom Festival at Provo almost is upon us, and with it come concerts, festival shopping, food, entertainment, art, fireworks and thousands of people in downtown Provo. But you don’t have to be afraid of those crowds — there’s plenty of parking if you’re willing to walk a little farther, lots of restaurants and food vendors for everyone, space to watch the Grand Parade and free fun for the whole family.
“There’s something for everyone,” said Brady Curtis, executive director of Downtown Provo, Inc. “There’s music, there’s art, there’s shopping, there’s food. No matter who you are or what your passion is, there’s something that downtown Provo has to offer you.”
One of the first (and earliest) events of the patriotic week is the (hot air) Balloon Festival at Bulldog Field, 1100 N. Freedom Blvd. in Provo. The free event, started 31 years ago, is from 6:30 to 8 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, so you have to be an early riser for this one. Each day the pilots play Hare and Hound, where the Hound balloons drop bean bags on a target put out by the Hare balloons. Pilots can get more points by popping large balloons with sharp sticks 200-300 feet off the ground.
The balloons fly all over the city so if you don’t make it to the field by 6:30 a.m., just look up to see the interesting balloons — this year including Darth Vader and Yoda.
After your early-morning wake up, rest up (or work) until 4 p.m. Thursday when Freedom Days kicks off on Center Street and University Avenue in Provo. The 3-day event includes entertainment, rides, art, and booths full of information and things to buy. At the booth for Downtown Provo, Inc., the Aveda Institute will be doing free red, white and blue lips, Curtis said. Freedom Days closes at 11 p.m. Thursday, is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and then again 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday.
Then after walking and shopping, stop at a downtown Provo restaurant for dinner. Downtown Provo, Inc. is doing a big giveaway Wednesday through Friday — eat at one of the participating Provo restaurants, fill out and turn in a form and be entered to win more than $1,000 in gift cards to downtown Provo eateries. The participating restaurants: Ivie Juice Bar, Gloria’s Little Italy, Guru’s Cafe, Los Hermanos, Bruges, Sensuous Sandwich, Black Sheep Cafe, Two Jacks Pizza, El Tropical, Tenney’s Pizza, Hot Potato, The Madison, and Pho Plus. There’s no limit to how many times you enter, so every time you eat at one of these restaurants through Friday you can enter again. The winning form will be drawn at the Rooftop Concert on Friday on Center Street.
If you want to camp out for the Grand Parade on Saturday, you can start staking out your spot at 3 p.m. along University Avenue. (You can’t camp out along the other parts of the route until 5 a.m. Saturday.) But you can’t leave your stuff unattended. Portable toilets will be out along the route. And don’t park your car on the parade route after 8 p.m. Friday, because it will be towed.
On Friday evening there’s a new event for the festival — an art education event for kids. In past years there’s been a gallery of children’s art on display during the festival at the Utah County Health and Justice Building (151 S. University Ave.), but this year Downtown Provo, Inc. expanded it into its own little festival from 6-9 p.m. At the free event, there will be performances from local bands and singing groups and an education pavilion where art educators will teach children about the art of collage, said Christine Hale, event and social media coordinator for Downtown Provo, Inc. Kids will be able to make their own collages, using newspaper, tissue paper and glue. The theme of the free craft is “what makes me an American.” There also will be photo stand-ins of famous paintings — along with facts about each work of art — so kids can become Mona Lisa or be part of American Gothic.
Speaking of entertainment, this month’s Rooftop Concert is happening on Friday, starting at 7:30 p.m. at 100 W. Center St. — just a few blocks down the road from Freedom Days. Food trucks will be there too. The concert features The Moth and the Flame, Baby Ghosts and Static Waves.
It’s not too late to get a spot for the parade. Early Saturday morning Provo police close all the side streets and “usually there are really good spots that open up when they close those side streets,” Curtis said. You can even snag front-row seats.
As for parking, you’ll probably do some walking. But don’t think of it as a negative.
“Enjoy the city, enjoy walking,” he said. “Park a block of two away and discover something new.”
The big parade starts at 9 a.m. at 960 N. University Avenue, goes south to 100 South, east on 100 South to 200 East, then north on 200 East to Center Street, ending at 900 East.
After the parade you have several hours to rest or go back to Festival Days before Stadium of Fire starts at 8 p.m. This year’s event features Journey, Disney Channel’s Olivia Holt, Montel Williams and, of course, the biggest fireworks show in Stadium of Fire history. Tickets are $29-$175 and are still available, but you don’t need tickets to see the fireworks display. Just stake out a spot in the blocks surrounding LaVell Edwards Stadium and you can see the show.
The Freedom Festival isn’t confined to just Provo anymore. There are two big events at SCERA Park, 600 S. State St. in Orem — Cries of Freedom and Colonial Heritage Festival. Both events are free and Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The Colonial Festival is a living museum known as the Village at Aubin’s Grove. There you can see colonial artisans, exhibits, demos, debates, trials and storytelling. There also are games and daily chores for children, gun displays and cannon firing.
Cries of Freedom will feature immigrants being sworn in as new U.S. citizens and Col. Gail Halvorsen, aka The Candy Bomber. He’ll speak at the swearing-in ceremony at 11:30 a.m. Friday and the candy drop will be at 4 p.m. behind SCERA Elementary School. He’ll be flying a WWII Harpoon Lockheed PV2 Bomber, escorted by two T-6 Texans, also WWII-era planes. Children ages 6 to 12 will be able to run onto the field after the candy drop.
Click here for more information about Freedom Festival events.