Let Freedom Ring: A Crested Butte Fourth

“Liberty can no more exist without virtue and independence than the body can live and move without 

a soul.” – John Adams

by Dawne Belloise 

Crested Butte is especially known for its community-wide Fourth of July celebrations and our outrageous parades. Throughout its history, CB’s local population has put on a spectacle of creatively wacky floats and processions that border on the preposterous and always in good humor. Crested Butte’s parade and celebration are more of a carnival atmosphere, especially for kids with post-parade games and events. 

But this day starts off early with glorious pancakes expertly cooked up by the Crested Butte Fire Department. This year marks their 50th year of flipping those flapjacks that taste especially scrumptious on a wonderful July morning. Breakfast is served from 7 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. at the fire station at 306 Maroon, with all the proceeds benefiting the Fallen Firefighter Fund and the Crested Butte Fire/EMS Explorer Post.

Directly following the parade, on the south side of town in the Big Mine Ice Arena is the much-anticipated water war. Get out the big soaker guns and squirters, even though there’s no chance you can outmatch the Fire Department which leads the fight. Don’t forget your towel.

DJ Red will be spinning tunes at 12:30 p.m. with a block party until 3 p.m. on Elk Avenue at Third Street as well. Also, look for the family activities hosted by the various community nonprofits. There’ll be food and beverage vendors and family-friendly activities in the Vendor Village at Third and Elk from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This year’s Vendor Village will also feature a beer and wine garden to keep the over-21 celebration going on all afternoon.  

Up on the mountain at CBMR, there’s music on the Red Lady Stage on Wednesday, July 3 and, as the night falls and the skies darken, it’s the ooohs and ahhhs finale of dazzling fireworks. Take the free Mountain Express shuttle up and avoid the traffic, plus, you get to hang out with the locals on the buses.

A procession such as we have needs an interpreter, a liaison between the audience and the crazies marching up Elk Avenue. In 2013, Than Acuff took the reins of announcer from Denis Hall, who had been injecting his own style of emcee for 30 years. “I have no idea why Denis picked me,” Acuff shrugs and smiles, “It was a surprise and an honor. I’ve announced at a bunch of sports events and I’m comfortable with a microphone in my hand. Denis was my Fourth of July emcee sensei and I think because I’m sober, he figured I wouldn’t totally screw things up.” This year Andi Burnite will be joining Than as emcee.

Then there’s the Twinkies. “People throw Twinkies at me… I love Twinkies,” Acuff admits. “I put them in my bike pack and eat them on a big ride,” he laughs that at some time, some friends found out about his Twinkie habit and began showering him with the cream filled cakes, but in recent years Than laments that there’s been a substantial drop in the Twinkie toss to the emcees. 

Of the all the innovative floats, Acuff’s favorites are, “Anything that a group of people obviously got together to build and spent all night and morning making some sort of mess that is creative and teeters on the edge of destruction.” He’s seen over 30 years of parades and recalls many of the wildest floats, like Alan Bernholtz and his ski jump packed with snow on the back of a truck or his daring bike jump through a hoop of fire. There was one other float Acuff recalls, “Tucker Roberts doing full back layout on a trampoline while the float was moving. Then there was the time when Burt Rentals would ride snowmobiles in the parade with wheel attachments on the skis. And who can forget Tony Wildman in an American flag G-string on a horse? You can’t unsee that. I miss that kind of rogue energy of the Fourth of July parade.” 

People would put rafts full of water on their pickups, and snowmobiles in the back of trucks that would spray snow everywhere. There would be floats of just kids. But perhaps the best aspect was that we shut down Elk Avenue and everyone gathered in the street in the ultimate town takeover, going from neighbor’s house to neighbor’s house to visit and share food and libations. Many long-time locals remember that not that long ago, when the town was less populated the parade was so small that when it reached the end of Elk Avenue, it would turn around and march back down. The ecologists and biologists at Rocky Mountain Biological Lab (RMBL) in Gothic, costumed in only sewn-together corn lily leaves, would stomp their way up the parade route and then walk backwards down the avenue. But these days, the parade is too big for that. There’ll be the long-time favorites this year, the KBUT float funkifying its way up Elk, those Red Ladies dancing up a storm and, of course, the Flauschink Royalty and Royal Has Beens because it is so traditional Crested Butte.

Jim Schmidt aka “Deli” has been in town for the celebration every year since 1977. Having served as mayor and on town council for over two decades, he says of his 1995 brainstorm, “I decided that what the council should do was scoop up the horse poop in the parade. How could a town council be of better service to their community than slinging poop? I thought it was very symbolic,” he laughs and adds that both tourists and locals got the message. Deli laments that he wasn’t around for the bicentennial parade of 1976 when the scandalous Red, White & Blue Girls used only body paint as their costumes. “Most of them were topless, some were completely naked,” he says of the now legendary tribute to freedom of speech. “It’s freedom of expression and that’s what the Fourth is all about. Years back, there was a move to ban political statements in the parade but the Fourth is a political holiday. We rebelled… that’s what we’re celebrating. That’s why I think if somebody makes a statement, whatever the statement is, it’s cool that they’re in there even if I don’t agree with it,” he says, and adds, “The whole tradition and people are all so great.”

Whatever the Fourth of July means to you, know that the founders of this country shaped this holiday. Just before he signed the Declaration in 1776, John Adams visualized the future of the holiday when he wrote, “It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” Here in town, it’s a party day, it’s a homecoming. It’s the day the Declaration of Independence was passed into existence. We’re free. And we love our parade, barbecues and potlucks, lots of pancakes, laughing dogs and giggling kids, tank tops and flip flops weather, water fights and sparklers, friends and family returning home and the grand finale of fish and whistles and 36-inch shells of variegated chrysanthemums exploding into bouquets of titillating color in the night sky overhead. Yes, John Adams, you got that right. Happy Fourth, everyone!

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