Two hundred and forty-five years ago, George Washington and company celebrated independence from the British empire.
This year, Mesa and the rest of America celebrates independence – from the coronavirus.
“I like that concept,” Mesa Mayor John Giles said.
But, cautious as a leader must be, he quickly added what could be called a COVID caveat:
“We’ve made great progress and obviously would rather be where we are today than where we were a year ago. We all are enjoying a little more freedom than we had a year ago. But I hope we realize it’s not ‘mission accomplished’ yet. That’s why we encourage people if they haven’t got vaccination yet to do so.”
Two-thirds of American adults have been vaccinated – short of President Joe Biden’s goal of 70 percent. Every American adult – and, in Arizona, all over age 10 – can get one of the vaccines.
More than half of Maricopa County residents have been vaccinated, which has given leaders the confidence to “green light” celebrations, big and small.
The City of Mesa is not quite ready for a full-scale, “pre-pandemic” Independence Day blowout – but plans a “drive-in fireworks show,” similar to last year’s celebration.
The event will be held at 9 p.m. Saturday, July 3, in the parking lot of Fiesta Mall, 1425 W. Southern Ave. The parking lot will open at 7 p.m.
Gilbert is the only East Valley municipality that is returning to a celebration with no stay-in-or-near-your-vehicle restrictions.
Chandler’s fireworks show also restricts spectators to inside or near their vehicles while Tempe, which has hosted a mammoth fireworks display for years, canceled its event for the second consecutive year.
Giles said Mesa’s event will be similar to last year’s, which moved from the traditional site of the Mesa Amphitheater to the closed-down mall for a slimmed-down version with social distancing.
“This year is going to be a copy of last year,” Giles said. “We got a great response to last year’s event. There’s a lot of safety protocols in place. Cars are going to be spaced away from each other … The same model as we followed last year.”
The fireworks will be displayed while 94.5 KOOL-FM plays patriotic music.
Food, non-alcoholic beverages, water, chairs and blankets are permitted. There will be no vendors at the event.
The following are prohibited from the drive-in show: alcohol; glass bottles; grills or heating equipment for cooking food; firearms; fireworks/sparklers/firecrackers; laser pointers.
For more information, visit azcelebrationoffreedom.org.
Those who catch the Saturday night fireworks show can “double dip,” with shows in Chandler, Gilbert, Scottsdale and Queen Creek on July 4.
A little south of Mesa, a smaller fireworks show takes place at Schnepf Family Farms near South Rittenhouse and East Cloud roads in Queen Creek. Christ the King Church’s “Freedom Project” has been hosted here since 2014.
This year’s event starts at 4 p.m. July 4 with live music, foam pit, face painting, artisan vendors, food trucks, beer and wine bar, capped by a 20-minute fireworks show after dark.
Gilbert Regional Park at 3005 E. Queen Creek Road will host a celebration that starts with a show by a Garth Brooks cover band 7:15-8:45 p.m. Food trucks will be on hand and the fireworks start at 8:45 p.m., weather permitting. Information: gilbertaz.gov/july4th.
Chandler is holding its celebration at Tumbleweed Park, 745 E. Germann Road, with gates opening at 7:30 p.m. and fireworks at 9 p.m. Like Mesa, spectators will have to stay in or near their vehicles.
We’re not quite back to normal, as Giles noted, but we are getting closer.
“Pre-COVID, Mesa had the ‘Celebration of Freedom.’ It was a great fireworks show but a lot more than that,” Giles said. “We had a naturalization ceremony, food vendors, games for the kids. It was really a site to behold, a county fair type event. The cherry on top was the fireworks show.
“I think we’re all looking forward to getting back to a full blown ceremony.”
He hopes Mesa will be ready for a return to the amphitheater and a big blowout in 2022. “You never really know, but we’re all expecting COVID will be in the rear-view mirror by then.” ′