There's always a lot of buzz about all the exciting new stuff that's popping up in Bradenton. That makes it easy to overlook how exciting some of the more established stuff is.
A case in point: The DeSoto Heritage Festival Grand Parade. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the historic parade, and it still outdraws almost every other event in the area. Estimates of previous year's crowds have reached over 200,000, or about four times the population of the city of Bradenton.
This year's parade is set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The weather forecast for Saturday is phenomenal, so there's no reason to expect this year's crowds to be smaller than usual.
The route starts at Manatee High School, then heads west on Ninth Avenue, north along 39th Street West to Manatee Avenue and then turns east toward Downtown Bradenton to Ninth Street West.
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The parade's lineup for this year includes 133 entries, from city officials in convertibles to marching bands from local high schools to floats carrying krewes from all over the area. Also in the mix are every thing fire trucks, a Tampa Bay Rays float, color guards to dogs, horses and a bloodmobile. This year a special event has been added the SOCOM Para-commandos will perform a precision aerial freefall landing onto the parade route, than participating in the parade.
Because the parade doesn't get going until 6:30 p.m., it ends well after sundown, so a lot of the floats are illuminated, which makes the parade especially spectacular after nightfall.
The parade lineup puts a lot of the local dignitaries in convertibles at the front. The second half of the parade has a higher concentration of floats, and the last quarter of the parade lineup is almost entirely floats. That ensures that the illuminated floats get the most after-dark exposure. (It also makes it easy to skip the waving politicians in convertibles, who don't exactly provide spectacular visual effects for the discerning parade-lover.)
Like so many parades in West Central Florida, the DeSoto Heritage Festival Grand Parade features a lot of people dressed up as pirates who toss plastic beads into the crowds along the parade route. They're mostly cheap necklaces, though some of the ersatz pirates buy so many that they end up spending large sums of money. On any other day of the year, most people wouldn't bother to bend over and pick them up off the sidewalk. On parade days, they'll push and block people out of their way, or run into the path of oncoming cars and horses to pluck a stray strand from the street, and wear dozens of plastic necklaces around their necks to document their bead-retrieving skills.
Details: 6:30 p.m. April 26, starting at Manatee High School, 902 33rd St. Court W,, Bradenton. Tickets: Free. Information: 941-747-1998, www.desotohq.com.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.