With events from sunup until after sundown, Harford residents and visitors will be able to celebrate our nation's independence on July 4th all day long throughout the Town of Bel Air.
Bel Air has many things to offer - a pancake breakfast, horseshoes, patriotic contests, children's games as well as the parade and fireworks, Mike Blum, vice president of the Bel Air Independence Day Committee, said in an email.
"Here, in Bel Air, we have better celebrations, more fun and a coming-together of everything that's good and positive and happy and fun and unifying in our community — for free; all day," Blum said. "All I can say is that it's fun, fun, fun! Generations of people have been doing that, and the crowds grow every year."
Parade organizers are happy to report that the Uptown String Band will return for this year's parade, thanks to a tourism grant from the Harford County government, Blum said.
"This is one of the Mummers bands that used to do our parade, back in the 1990s. They have moved heaven and earth to get back to us, and we hope that our crowds will welcome them as they deserve," Blum wrote.
The day starts at 6:45 a.m. with a flag raising ceremony featuring Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 30; American Legion Post 39; Robert Hudson, bugler; Pamela Rinehart, soprano soloist, accompanied by Natalie Brosh, Miss Bel Air 2017, in front of Bel Air High School.
Flag-raisings follow at 7:45 a.m. at Rockfield Park, 8:45 a.m. at Shamrock Park and 11 a.m. at Bel Air Elementary School.
The flag-raising at the high school kicks off not only Independence Day in Bel Air, but also the annual pancake breakfast, from 7 to 11 a.m. The cost is $8 for adults and $5 for children 10 and younger. Breakfast includes blueberry or chocolate pancakes, along with sausage, coffee and juice.
The Bel Air High School Athletic Boosters Club, in co-ordination with the Bel Air Independence Day Committee, will sponsor the traditional All You Can Eat Pancake Breakfast in the Bel Air High School cafeteria
This is the second year the boosters organization is the breakfast's principal sponsor. A portion of the proceeds go back to the Bel Air Independence Day Committee to help in the planning and execution of the next year's 4th of July celebration, Bel Air High Athletic Director Anthony Blackburn notes in an email.
The regular events begin at 8:30 a.m. (registration at 8 a.m.), when contestants in the horseshoe pitching contest will start tossing their shoes in Rockfield Park.
The Hays House will be open for tours beginning at 9 a.m., with guests guided by docents in period costumes through Bel Air's oldest house. The Catherine Street Consort will also play period music and country dance tunes using a full family of recorders, along with guitar and percussion.
The fun family contests in Shamrock Park run from 9 a.m. to noon, beginning with the water balloon toss. It is followed by the costume contest at 10 a.m., Uncle Sam Says at 11 a.m. and watermelon eating at 11:30 a.m.
Participants compete in age divisions, depending on attendance, and are awarded ribbons and trophies for placing and all participants.
The bicycle rodeo begins at 11 a.m. in the parking lot of Bel Air Elementary School. Trophies will be awarded for best decorated bikes, as well as awards for best bike handlers in age groups 5 and younger, 6-8, 9-10 and 11-13.
Bel Air's parade, with a theme this year of "One From Many - Celebrating the Creation of the United States," will begin at 6 p.m. at the intersection of Idlewild and South Main streets. It will proceed down Main to Gordon Street.
If the parade is canceled because of inclement weather, it will not be rescheduled. Cancellation information will be announced on Facebook and broadcast on WXCY-FM 103.7 and WAMD-AM 970.
The day ends with the fireworks display, which will be launched from Rockfield Park. Spectators may watch from any permitted area in or around the Town of Bel Air.
If the fireworks are canceled because of inclement weather, they will be launched instead (weather permitting and details permitting) the next day, July 5, at approximately 9:30 p.m.
Scheduled to appear in the parade is Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor, the new commanding general of the 20th CBRNE Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, as well as Brig. Gen. William King and a color guard of active soldiers from APG.
Blum also said the APG Centennial Helmet Car, newly reconstructed and featuring the active APG Soldier of the Year, will ride in the parade.
"This the first time in over five years that the giant 'Helmet Car' has been able to parade," Blum wrote.
The parade includes more than 20 floats, half from local businesses and the others from churches and civic groups and a few individual entries, he said.
"We have Cub Scouts on bikes, twirlers with fiery batons, stilts walkers and wild comic units. We have a very suitable contingent from Aberdeen Proving Ground, including two generals. We are backed by the town, the county, the local police and volunteer fire departments, all of whom are in the parade," he said. "Where else can you see such a performance? Such a combination of disparate identities and ideas, all working together? I am a theatrical director by trade, and I call this the 'world's largest amateur theatrical production,' with 2,000 performers, 30,000 spectators and no rehearsal, you can see what I mean!"
This year's parade will include 22 bands, including eight from Harford high schools, two "kiltie bands," several drum-and-bugle corps and a lot of big marching bands from all over.
"But there is just something special about a band that dances and performs in wild costumes as it plays and marches, and the Philadelphia Mummer-style string bands are that 'just something.' They are special," Blum said.
Though the mummers performed in Bel Air throughout most of the 1990s, they were eliminated from the lineup shortly thereafter as costs began to rise, Blum said. But people always told him they wished they were still there.
The band will be coming to Bel Air after a performance in Bucks County, Pa. Because they won't arrive until later, the band will be toward the end of the parade, Blum said.