Ashland's eccentric Fourth of July celebration captivated a crowd of about 25,000 as the city simmered under its red-white-and-blue getup at the parade and cooled off under a blaze of fireworks.
The annual event — typically Ashland's largest — awed Mayor John Stromberg, he said, after giving his first welcome address in the Lithia Park band shell, shortly before the Declaration of Independence was read.
"I think that we all would agree that we're incredibly privileged to be here on this special day with this incredible band, celebrating the Declaration of Independence," he told the audience members, who were stretched out on blankets and reclining in lawn chairs in the shade.
Stromberg encouraged Ashland residents to get involved in city government and embrace the meaning of the day's celebration.
"I think this holiday is about important things," he said. "I think we have in our hands the ability to make our government better and we should do it."
An hour earlier, the mayor joined about 1,000 others participating in the mile-long parade down Ashland's main streets.
Stromberg drove an Ashland Car-Share Toyota Prius, a hybrid electric and gas car, in the parade. Others rode atop floats, horses or bikes as they made their way through the route — a narrow divide through a sea of parade watchers.
"It's most impressive," said Ashland resident Chuck Staley, 88, as he watched the train of floats file past his red golf cart, decked out for the holiday. "There's some weirdos, but most of it's very entertaining."
It is the strangeness of the celebration — a black van towing a rock band behind Girl Scouts in a canoe and a "wedding party" in a Cinderella carriage — that makes it so endearing, several locals said.
"I just like the variety of culture," said Ashland resident McKael Kenfield, 28. "It's a place where everyone can express themselves."
Brian Luman, who grew up in Ashland but now lives in San Francisco, brought his city friends to see the parade and run in the 2- and 6-mile races early Saturday, he said.
"I brought all these guys back to see the parade and get this small town feeling. This is as good as it gets," he said. "But I guess I'm too old to get the candy now."
From the floats, people flung out candy to the children lining the parade route. Others, in the name of helping viewers cool off in the heat that was approaching triple digits, brought water guns.
Twin girls, Hanna and Macy Brehmer, both 8, scored front-row spots on East Main Street, where they danced to the music streaming from the floats and scavenged for candy.
"I think the parade is very fantastic," Macy said. "My favorite part is the jumping people and when they throw candy."
Hanna, who had her face painted like a flag, explained the fun of the Fourth.
"I like to celebrate it because it's like celebrating our country in a really fun way," she said.
Just down the street, another set of twins was experiencing their first July Fourth ever.
Mack and Miles Shannon, both 3 weeks old, were wearing red-white-and-blue outfits.
"We come every year," said the babies' mother, Kiley. "It's just nice to get out of the house with the babies."
Kiley's niece, Cassy Braught, 14, and her friend were helping to watch the infants.
"They woke up a little bit when the musicians went by but other than that they've done great," Cassy said.
Meanwhile, some children were marching or riding in the parade. Tarquin Daley, 11, rode on a float with the Ashland All Stars baseball team.
"It was my first time to do this," he said. "Seeing all the people I know who were screaming my name and throwing the candy — it was so fun."
12-year-old Jack Hobbs marched in the parade with Ashland Boy Scout Troop 112 and held a flag at the beginning of the parade.
"I think it was nice to see people clapping and their faces lighting up as we came by," he said. "Of all the parades I've seen here I think I like the Fourth of July the most. This is really great!"
Parade judges gave Transition Town Ashland, a nonprofit focused on sustainability, the grand prize for the best float. The float featured peace signs and '60s memorabilia and played John Lennon's song "Imagine."
Jessica Vineyard, one of the judges, said she was impressed with the Fourth of July celebrations this year.
"I just think it was a great crowd this year," she said. "This was one of the better parades that I've seen in my 16 years here."
Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or email@example.com.