PROVO — Ever since she was a little girl, Brandalee Streeter has come to the America's Freedom Festival Grand Parade every Fourth of July to see the colorful, patriotic celebrations.
And Wednesday morning she brought her own little girls.
"I think this is one of the best Fourth of July celebrations in America, and we love to be a part of that," Streeter said. "We're so grateful the Freedom Festival puts this on, and we're grateful that the community comes together."
Streeters favorite part of the parade? Seeing her daughters get excited whenever a float carrying a city's pageant winners comes by, because they love to see the "princesses."
The Steeters were among the thousands of Utahns who gathered along Provo streets and sidewalks to celebrate the holiday and watch the Grand Parade, which organizers say is largest in Utah and attracts about 300,000 spectators.
Other Freedom Festival events on Wednesday included a hot air balloon show, the Freedom Run, Freedom Days activities at the county courthouse and the Stadium of Fire, which rocked LaVell Edwards Stadium with headliners OneRepublic and a dazzling fireworks display.
According to David McDougal, chairman of America’s Freedom Foundation, the event saw its biggest crowd in 10 years.
Janessa Koelliker has atteneded the Stadium of Fire nearly every year since she was a kid, but this year was the first time for her husband, Braden.
“I just love it,” said Braden Koelliker, who had just eaten his first Cougar Tail specialty doughnut. “It was really cool how they talked about the military and the planes that flew. It was really patriotic."
Janessa Koelliker was a little disappointed, though, with the muddled sound during OneRepublic's first two songs.
“That first song was really bad,” the Kaysville resident said.
Despite the sound problems early on, the band gave an energetic performance, and lead singer Ryan Tedder told the crowd that Utah was one of his favorites places to visit and that he loved the honor Utahns give to veterans.
"We just appreciate people knowing that everything we do is positive and good," said Paul Warner, executive director of America's Freedom Festival. "We want it to be a great time for our community."
Highlights from this year's parade included a couple of giant floating balloons — Poe from "Kung Fu Panda" and Elmo from "Sesame Street." There were also appearances by Utah politicians — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert in a limo and Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi in a horse-drawn carriage.
They were joined by 15 military entries, 13 bands, 12 equestrian groups and 20 colorfully decorated floats with themes like giant toucans, oversized desserts and medieval fantasy. Among the mix was three LGBTQ groups that were previously denied entry into the parade.
Warner said the festival wasn't trying to be discriminatory earlier this year when the groups were initially rejected.
"We came to an agreement where they realized we wanted this to be a Fourth of July celebration and not an issue parade," Warner said. "So they were willing to make some adjustments to their willingness to fly the red, white and blue."
Erika Munson, co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges, said this is the third year her group has applied to be in the parade. The group's float Wednesday was themed "Utah Honors LGBT Veterans: United We Stand," with some of those veterans on board and others pictured in large photographs.
"These veterans are perhaps one of the prime examples of Americans putting country before self," Munson said. "They had to hide who they were."
At the meeting last month between the rejected LGBTQ groups and the festival committee to try to hammer out an agreement, Munson said there were high emotions and tears.
Then, one of the chairmen reached out to help make it possible, she said.
"We said, ‘If you can help us out with funding, we're happy to do a float,’" Munson said. "The chair said, 'I will donate the money out of my pocket.' That was pretty amazing. We walked away with all the LGBT groups admitted."
Out of the five LGBT groups admitted, three ended up participating in the parade: Mormons Building Bridges, Encircle and Provo Pride.
Seth Ellsworth, who walked with Encircle in the parade, said the controversy over letting his group participate didn't make much sense to him.
"Anyone ought to be able to walk," he said. "We're grateful they finally were able to figure something out."
When Encircle members walked by in the parade, many spectators loudly cheered to show their support.
"I think any group that can celebrate America is certainly welcome in the parade," said Brandalee Streeter's husband, Brad, when asked about the LGBTQ groups being allowed in the parade for the first time.