Tacoma Salutes Independence Day on land, on sea and in the sky

// Organizers issue serious warnings about survival of Freedom Fair

As Independence Day draws near, and people across the country make plans for how to spend the day, thoughts turn to summertime traditions like family gatherings, picnics and, of course, seeing a fireworks show. Here in Tacoma, Freedom Fair 2012 will provide anything and everything that families need to have a memorable 4th of July, and those who come out to celebrate will be asked to drop some cash in the donation buckets, as Tacoma will have no 4th of July celebration next year if there is not enough money to pay for it.

Doug Miller is executive director and CEO of Tacoma Events Commission, which produces Freedom Fair. “This will make or break whether we can keep it going,” he said of the need for the public’s help this year. “We need help in volunteers and donations.”

Organized completely by non-paid volunteers who work year-round in planning the massive event, Freedom Fair offers a first-class roster of attractions that are not offered anywhere else in the area. On land, sea and in the skies, Freedom Fair salutes America’s independence like no other in the Northwest. It all kicks off on June 29, with a tribute to the military and veterans at Cheney Stadium. Buying tickets online at http://www.freedomfair.com will go to help the Fair – individual reserved seating and a ballpark meal voucher (a $23 value) is $15.

While the Tacoma Rainiers prepare to take on the Las Vegas 51s that evening, fans waiting for the game to start can check out the vintage military vehicles on display, take the kids’ photos with Rainiers mascot Rhubarb the Reindeer, and enjoy other activities before and during the game. A ceremony to honor military heroes will be held, and a fireworks show will highlight the evening. Buy a raffle ticket at the Tacoma Events Commission ticket exchange booth for a chance to win a VIP game experience for two.

Wings and Wheels at the Tacoma Narrows Airport will happen July 1. Vendors, food booths, military displays and entertainment will be going on throughout the day at this aviation, car and motorcycle show. It features live music, a beer garden, a concert by the Air Force Golden West Band, race cars, a World War II B-17 Flying Fortress offering aircraft rides and tours, helicopter rides, aircraft flying in and on static display, and the Smoke 'N' Thunder Jet Dragster making a 300 m.p.h. run down the runway. Tickets to Wings and Wheels are also available at http://www.freedomfair.com.

To cap off the days of patriotic revelry on July 4, an air show cruise on Commencement Bay will offer the perfect place to watch the stunning fireworks display that lights up all of Ruston Way starting at 10:10 p.m. But until the sun goes down, all along the waterfront things will be booming throughout the day with activities: live music on several stages, classic cars, food vendors, a pole vaulting exhibition, a BMX bike show and an international marketplace with more than 100 artists, craft vendors and commercial exhibitors.

Between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. the Tacoma Freedom Fair Airshow will take to the skies over Commencement Bay with some of the best aviation acts in the country. The highlight will be the Air Force’s newest fighter aircraft the F-22 Raptor making its first appearance in Washington.

Freedom Fair organizers are remaining optimistic that attendees will drop money into the donation buckets so that next year’s newspaper headlines do not shout, “Tacoma skies to remain dark on the 4th of July.”

“For Tacoma to win the honor of hosting (the F-22 Raptor) is a real feather in our cap.” Miller said. “We’re very honored that they chose us over bigger cities. They like coming here, so we want the public to come out and support them.” Admission to Freedom Fair on July 4 is just $10, and tickets can be ordered now through the website (along with tickets to the air show cruise).

Costs to cover Freedom Fair are paid through donations from the public and a handful of corporate sponsors. However, with a stressful economy leaving no one untouched, independently run events like Freedom Fair are struggling to make ends meet – such small, volunteer non-profits are feeling the pinch across the country. But with Tacoma’s rich military history and high level of patriotism, it seems unthinkable that there could be no Independence Day celebration here, and Miller and Freedom Fair organizers are remaining optimistic that the community will step up to make sure that newspaper headlines next year do not shout, “Tacoma skies to remain dark on the 4th of July.”

“We’re fighting to keep the tradition alive,” Miller said of his crew. “We’re putting it together on faith that the public will respond generously to keep it going.” Donation buckets will be at the front gates, and Miller is asking that everyone drop in a minimum of $5.

“We can’t emphasize enough that we’re a small, volunteer non-profit. We are not part of city government – it’s your friends and neighbors making this happen.”

Visit http://www.freedomfair.com to read more about what is on tap at Freedom Fair 2012.

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