BRADENTON — Standing and sitting along Manatee Avenue West, thousands gathered Saturday night to watch an estimated 200 floats glide by in the area’s moving celebration of its historical roots.
The DeSoto Heritage Festival is in its 70th year, according to organizers.
Children shrieked and reached for shiny plastic beads as riders tossed them from DeSoto Heritage Grand Parade floats of all kinds. Sometimes the adults joined in.
Linda and Bob Guerrette, of Palmetto, waved and cheered as the groups moved by. They held a sign, “Throw me the beads.”
Their plan to beat the huge crowds and traffic: Set their chairs up across from the Manatee County Courthouse on Saturday morning and bike to the parade that evening.
“We’re from up north and there’s nothing like this,” Linda Guerrette said. “The floats are always amazing with all of their efforts. You know they start planning for next year’s parade right after this one. …It just keeps getting better and better each year.”
Nearby, 1 1/2-year-old Logan bounced with family members to the beat of the drum line from Manatee High School’s Marching Band.
The child’s arm encircled Britni Matyasi’s shoulder as he watched fire trucks, police cars and emergency vehicles.
“He loves to see all the big trucks,” said Matyasi, of Ellenton, holding the wide-eyed child. “It’s fun just watching his reaction.”
Annetta Matyasi, of Palmetto, Matyasi’s sister-in-law, said she has been coming to the parade as long as she can remember. As a child she was often in the parade with school floats and other civic organizations. Now she’s a spectator.
How has it changed?
“It’s huge. It’s cleaner, and they’re passing out trash bags, which is genius,” she said. “There’s so many more people.”
Chris Wilkinson, a staging manager for the parade hosted by the Hernando DeSoto Society, said entries for floats were up from last year.
“If someone is standing in the parade, probably about 200 floats, walking groups and trailers will go by,” he said of the 175 entrants this year. “We’ve been surprised, with a down economy, we didn’t know what to expect. I think more people are staying in the area rather than traveling.”