The 66th annual Scottsdale Parada del Sol Parade & Trail’s End Festival will honor the late Sen. John McCain this year with the theme “Arizona’s Heroes.”
McCain’s wife, Cindy McCain, will ride in the parade to represent her husband.
“Once we had the theme, we started brainstorming about who to invite,” Parada del Sol Parade President Wendy Springborn said. “Senator McCain had recently passed, so the committee decided it would be our great honor to recognize him as our grand marshal, and who more appropriate than his wife Cindy to represent him in our parade?”
The theme is in line with the history of the parade, which has often been used to highlight civic responsibility and Arizona pride.
Past themes include 1958’s “The Old West Lives Again” and 1965’s “Four Flags of Arizona”, which was submitted by then-17-year-old Camelback High School student Susan Kimsey.
The event, which takes place on Saturday, Feb. 9, will feature horse-drawn carriages, wagons and stagecoaches, bands playing lively tunes, local celebrities, horse riders, dancers and more.
The Scottsdale co-parade marshals this year are Scottsdale Police Officer of the Year Aric Manore, Firefighter of the Year Ned Greenleaf and Steve Strickbine, publisher of the Scottsdale Progress.
“We are always honored to have the Firefighter of the Year and Police Officer of the Year represented in the parade,” Springborn said. “These individuals are representing two of the finest departments in the city – departments with a primary responsibility of keeping us safe – and most definitely represent Arizona Heroes.”
Strickbine, who owns the Times Media Group family of publications, revived the Scottsdale Progress in September 2018 after the paper had been out of print for nearly a decade.
Springborn said the committee is honoring him as hometown sponsor and wanted to recognize him for his contributions to the parade and for bringing back the Progress.
The Parada “Stars” are Kyle Bragg, Anasazi Elementary P.E. Teacher of the Year, and Brian Biesemeyer, Scottsdale Water executive director, who won a national Sustainable Water Utility Management Award.
When the parade is over and the final entrant has gone by, the streets of Old Town Scottsdale will transform into the Trail’s End Festival, a street party featuring western bands, street dancing and a Cowboy Kids zone filled with a petting zoo, bounce houses, cowboy drama and horse rides.
The parade is expected to draw 20,000 spectators – a sizable crowd but still a far cry from the parade’s heyday when it would draw ten times that many people.
According to an article in the Scottsdale Daily Progress from December 1968, “over 200,000 people lined the three-mile parade route” that year.
“The parade is a true community event showcasing our multi-cultural heritage and it is free to attend,” Springborn said, adding that for 66 years the Scottsdale Parada del Sol committee of volunteers has coordinated the parade filled with horse-drawn carriages, bands, wagons and stagecoaches.
“I truly believe this event brings our community together for a day of celebration, a chance to highlight some of the best of Scottsdale including our schools, businesses and organizations, and it’s free to attend. How can it get any better than that?”
The Scottsdale Parada del Sol was created in 1957 by members of the Scottsdale Jr. Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) to celebrate the history of the “West’s Most Western Town,” said Ellen Bilbrey, spokeswoman for Parada del Sol and Trail’s End Festival.
“The first parades had cows running down the middle of the street as a cattle drive,” Bilbrey said. “The town was a dusty place along the road with a few businesses.”
Ironically, she added, Scottsdale is now a popular tourism destination with some of the best high-end spas in the country, hotels and restaurants – with not a cow in sight running down the street.
About 120 entries are expected for this year’s parade, Bilbrey said, including individuals and groups that travel to Scottsdale from around the state.
“A good example is the Ram Dancers who come from the bottom of the Grand Canyon Hualapai Tribe. There are also the Cabalgando horses – the team is focusing on the ‘spirit’ of the old west and lore that has attracted visitors from around the world to Scottsdale.”
The famous 1959 “Howdy Dudettes,” ambassadors from the Embassy Suites Hilton Scottsdale Resort, will be official western ambassadors during the festivities, Bilbrey said, adding that a colorful and fascinating cultural Arizona Indian Festival will take place on the same day at the Civic Center Mall.
“The three street stages at the Trail’s End Festival will have rockabilly, string, and rock bands. The Arizona Wine Garden will feature award-winning wines from Arizona, and Aztec and folklorico dancers on the Hispanic stage, and street entertainers will offer photographers a vast array of vivid color and western style,” Bilbrey said.
Bilbrey said Rock Lobster, The Herndon Brothers and The Raun Alosi Band are the featured bands, and that Times Media Group president Strickbine will sing the National Anthem on the Silverado Stage.
The event is now organized by a small committee of volunteers that took over when the Jaycees disbanded in 2009.
“We are a small but mighty group of volunteers,” Springborn said. “We currently do not have any paid positions. The core committee consists of 10 to 15 individuals; however, we expand to approximately 50 volunteers the day of the events.”
The committee is always looking for more volunteers. Interested parties can find more information at scottsdaleparade.com.
The festivities actually begin the Friday before the parade, Bilbrey said, when the Hashknife Pony Express riders will bring in the U.S. mail at noon, and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., there will a cowboy camp for kids at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.
For Springborn and several fellow committee members, the parade is a walk down memory lane – literally and figuratively.
“This event is a blast from the past for me. In the early to mid-1970s, I had the chance to march in the parade as a student from Ingleside Elementary,” Springborn said, adding that for two years she was a baton twirler. “It was so exciting to be able to march in the parade and then later in life, be able to ride a horse in the parade as a Scottsdale Jaycee.”
Springborn said one of her co-chairs, Dr. Don Chiappetti, had a very similar experience as she did with the parade.
“A number of our committee members and volunteers grew up around Parada because their parents participated on committees and now, they are giving back to continue to ensure the ongoing success of the Scottsdale Parada del Sol Parade and Trail’s End Festival.”
Progress contributor Alison Stanton also reported for this story.