Fourth of July 2021 got off to a star-spangled start on Longboat Key with the Freedom Fest.
After it was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, pent-up demand for the small-town classic brought hundreds to Bay Isles Road for the short parade and subsequent festival on the morning of Fourth of July. The Hot Diggity Dog! parade and contest, hosted as always by the Rotary Club of Longboat Key, had 33 patriotic pups walking Bay Isles Road — a parade record. The competition was stiff, but in the end only three dogs could win Most Patriotic, Best Owner-Dog Combo and Honorable Mention.
"It was really, really hard to pick," judge Jay Sparr said. "There were so many that could've won and so many did great things."
Though the dogs tried to steal the show, there was too much else to look at during the parade, billed the "world's shortest" by the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce. Chamber members including Cannons Marina, Cadence Bank and Junk King tossed candy to the kids on the sidelines, the Longboat Key police and fire departments lit up their red, white and blue lights and even two miniature horses walked along Bay Isles Road. The parade had four grand marshals this year and the theme was honoring Longboat Key's hometown heroes.
"I'm just happy we could bring it back," chamber President Gail Loefgren said. "Before the parade, everybody was really anxious to get it started."
The Forshey family has been coming to Longboat Key since the 1970's and is usually here over the Fourth of July weekend. The parade is a tradition and a bit of old-Florida charm that they're glad to see return after the pandemic. One of the youngest Forsheys, Mary Ellen, was getting her face painted at the site of the games after the parade. Nearby, there were also ring-the-bell games and games where kids had to try to toss a ball into the right hole to win prizes.
"Every time I come here I feel like I've gone back in time," Chris Forshey said.