For 63 years now, the residents of Spokane have viewed the Lilac Festival Parade as the ultimate local tradition. Children, parents, grandparents and friends cram the sidewalks of downtown to enjoy the pageantry of the marching bands, the glitter of the floats and the glamour of the Lilac royalty. Participants spend hundreds of hours preparing and perfecting their performances in order to give the audience a show to remember.
Those participants take home their own memories as well. Anyone who has ever been to the staging area before the parade can feel the electric excitement in the air while band members, cheerleaders, drill teams and color guards warm up.
But this year, the parade, which also goes by its full name, the Global Federal Credit Union Lilac Festival Armed Forces Day Torchlight Parade, has run into some trouble. Busan Wells, executive director of the Spokane Lilac Festival Association, says that since the general economy is down, corporate sponsorships are down as well.
"Every year is difficult," she says. "Every year, you start all over, recontacting sponsors and donors."
One of the solutions to this problem was to recruit the community. In years past, only about 6,000 Lilac Festival pins were sold. This year, the association made a concentrated effort to sell 22,500 pins for $3 each. Although parades may seem to be a holdover from another era, the people of Spokane responded; as of May 14, there were only 500 left.
"You see people on fixed incomes buying a pin with a $10 bill and making a $7 donation," she says.
Another answer to their problems came last year when the television rights of the parade were sold to a local station for a later broadcast (the parade used to be broadcast live). Although initially this met with some concerns from people who could not make it to the parade, the association made videotapes available at their expense for residents of nursing homes and others as well. This year, the parade will air on Saturday, May 26, from noon until 2 pm on KXLY-4.
Not airing the parade live did have its perks, however. Wells tells a story about a man who went to the parade last year and brought his father as well as his own children. When the American flag went by, the grandfather stood. The grandson, not really knowing why, stood up as well and took his grandfather's hand. The man said that he would not have had that memory preserved on videotape had the parade been aired on live TV.
"It's those kind of memories that are extremely important in these high-tech times," she says.
The Pushy Grandmas and other nonprofit organizations will also sell programs that will be available for the first time in many years. For $2, these will include information about the participants, as well as the order in which they appear.
If you don't like to camp out on the sidewalks and prefer a better seat, supporters of the parade can also purchase tickets on the bleachers to guarantee a great seat. These are only $3 for children and $5 for adults.
"One of the things people don't know is that we do not charge for our entries," Wells said of the participants. "The festival is the largest form of family-style free entertainment in the Inland Northwest."
Of course, Bloomsday and Hoopfest are also longstanding traditions in the Inland Northwest, but participants must pay for their involvement. Other than six commercial entries, such as Wells Fargo, there are 200 units that don't pay a cent in order to be in the parade.
Now that the Lilac Association has made it through this year, they must look forward to the next. Wells says that as long as the community continues to show support, there will be a parade. She knows that when people don't have a lot of money to give to charitable organizations but still want to give something back to their community, they usually give to the sick and needy. Of course, this is important, but she feels that the parade is just as important for the youth of the area.
"We need to fund fun things for the community," she says.
The Global Federal Credit Union Lilac
Festival Armed Forces Day Torchlight Parade
takes place in downtown Spokane, Saturday,
May 19, starting at 7:45 pm.