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Bristol Fourth of July Parade returns, bigger and better, for 2021

Crowds turned out in full force for the 236th annual parade in Bristol, R.I. -- the longest-running, continuous Fourth of July celebration in the United States

With her father behind her, 2-year-old Ayden Elliott takes in the parade from a second-story window in Bristol, R.I., July 5, 2021.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

BRISTOL, R.I. – Hope Street, Church Street, and High Street were filled with people hugging and shaking hands on Monday, dressed in red, white, and blue and ready to celebrate. After having to scale back in 2020 because of the pandemic, the country’s longest-running, continuous Fourth of July celebration was nearly back to normal.

After gathering up confetti in both hands, Paige Milligan, 8, visiting from New Orleans, showers it over the head of her aunt, Kandace Campbell, of Middletown, R.I., during the 236th Fourth of July Celebration in Bristol, R.I., on Monday, July 5, 2021.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Vendors rolled up and down the streets, selling flags and inflatable aliens, wearing pride hats and shirts that read “Don’t Tread on Me.” State luminaries including Governor Dan McKee, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator Jack Reed, Attorney General Peter Neronha, Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, Representative Jim Langevin, and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea walked the route, waving to the crowds.

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Governor Dan McKee walks near the end of the parade in Bristol, R.I., on July 5, 2021.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Rhode Island’s favorite judge, Frank Caprio, star of the syndicated TV show “Caught in Providence,” even stepped out of his shiny red car to greet people along High Street.

Washington D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia put on some of the most beautiful fireworks. But quaint, little Bristol, R.I., is home to a Fourth of July celebration like no other. Hope Street, a state highway that’s a main artery of the town, sports red, white, and blue lines down its center instead of double yellow ones. The annual parade follows these lines through town.

05RIparade People mill around, waiting for the parade to makes its way down Hope Street in Bristol, R.I., on July 5, 2021.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The annual parade draws tens of thousands of people to this tiny town of just 22,100 residents. By 10 a.m., half an hour before the parade officially starts, the smallest streets have turned into parking lots, and dedicated parade-goers have been camped out along the parade route for ages.

“Last year it was watered down considerably,” said lifelong Bristol resident Nat Squatrito. Last year, the parade was just lines of cars driving Colt State Park to Child Street. The Miss Fourth of July pageant, which he and his wife co-judge every year, was canceled.

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This year, pageant winners and performers of all kinds were back.

A Rhode Island Shriners clown walks in the 236th Fourth of July Celebration in Bristol, R.I., on July 5, 2021.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Squatrito and his wife have been members of the Fourth of July committee for 34 years, and always participate in the celebrations. He’s the committee photographer for the event, and fondly recalls taking part in the parade’s ribbon cutting ceremony.

He explained that the only times he’s ever missed a Bristol Fourth of July parade were when he was a newborn baby, and when he was 10 years old and had to attend his aunt’s wedding.

Taj Paup, 6, of Barrington, R.I., dropped for push-ups, and a passing service member took up the challenge during the Fourth of July parade in Bristol, R.I., July 5, 2021.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Fran O’Donnell, a committee member who was helping the parade participants get ready near Mount Hope High School on Monday morning, said that last year’s car parade last year was great, but it wasn’t complete without the military groups and the bands.

“We take the Fourth of July very seriously in Bristol. This is the parade’s 236th year!” said O’Donnell.

The Kentish Guards Marching Band from East Greenwich, R.I. perform in the parade in Bristol, R.I., on July 5, 2021.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

“My favorite part of the Fourth of July is if you drive down the parade route, in the days leading up to the parade, you’ll see people painting their porches, washing their windows. They just want everything to look perfect!” O’Donnell said.

Although this year’s celebrations were closer to normal, there were still a few differences. The student marching bands, which travel to Bristol from around the country, were not there this year, though the military marching bands, the Mount Hope High School marching band and Dance Team, and a small hip-hop dance crew performed.

The Patriot Flag is carried by the Star Spangled Banner Project in Bristol, R.I., July 5, 2021.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The Patriot flag, carried by members of the Star Spangled Banner Project, and the float that honors the fallen soldiers were there, and everyone stood and applauded for them. First responders marched in formation, also to great applause.

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Friends Yolmaris Rodriguez, left, and Jesus Melo, of Providence, view the parade while standing next to a large unfurled flag on High Street in in Bristol, R.I., July 5, 2021.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

“It’s in our blood. We cut our fingers and we bleed red, white, and blue,” Squatrito said. “The Fourth of July is the celebration of our independence, the greatest democracy that has ever lived.”

The crowd applauds as first responders march during a tribute to the 9/11 fallen in Bristol, R.I., July 5, 2021.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff