MASON CITY, Iowa - Every May for the last 8 decades, the sounds of "76 Trombones" and marching bands fill the air in the River City, as part of the North Iowa Band Festival.
This year, however, the long-running festival and parade will not be held due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. But the spirit of the event is very much alive.
The Mason City Chamber of Commerce held a 'reverse parade' along Federal Avenue in Downtown Thursday afternoon, with cars lining up for blocks as families waited in line to receive candy, buttons, and even comic books.
Some cars were even decorated with messages of hope and encouragement.
"People say, 'I love you, we miss you.' The Band Festival is so much a part of our tradition and community that it fills our hearts here at the Chamber knowing that it means so much to people."
Kativa Weitzel with the Chamber has roots with the event, as her great-grandparents took part in some of the very first festivals. To honor and recognize this valuable part of North Iowa culture and history, a Spirit Week has been held all week long ahead of the traditional start, with interviews of last year's King and Queen, virtual concerts, and a private memorial service to Mason City's very own Meredith Willson.
"He dubbed Mason City the real River City, and we stuck true to that. I think he would be so proud. We honored him on his birthday on May 18th at his gravesite, and it's something you hold true to your heart every year."
The fun continues into this weekend: Friday night at 8:15 p.m., Betty & the Gents will hold a virtual concert on Facebook. In addition, the winners of NIACC's Extreme Makeover will be announced at Noon on Friday, and a special feature will also be presented on Facebook at 10 a.m. Saturday. More info can be found on the North Iowa Band Festival Facebook page.