Northside Is Back to Keeping the Fourth of July Weird

Neighborhood residents and businesses are pumped to see the parade and festival return after a two-year pandemic hiatus.

Cities like Austin and Portland might be known for keepin’ it weird, but the Queen City also embraces its quirky side. (If chili on spaghetti isn’t weird, I don’t know what is.) There’s perhaps no local spot more wholly, wonderfully weird than Northside, the delightfully iconoclastic home to vegan restaurants, vintage stores, a classic record shop, art galleries, and some of the city’s most unique small businesses. But more than just an effortlessly cool neighborhood, Northside is the sum of all its parts: the people, the community, and an indefatigable spirit—and nothing captures that spirit better than its annual Fourth of July soiree, which includes the Rock N’ Roll Carnival July 2–3 and the parade on July 4.

What began in the 1850s as a fund-raiser has, 150-plus years later, grown into something with a life and legacy of its own: a celebration of Northside and the people who make this neighborhood so special. As with most public events, Northside’s festival hit pause in 2020 and 2021, but the event is back on this year—and the pent-up artistic energy is palpable. Amid this excitement, we discuss the festival’s return with event co-chairs Maggie Heath-Bourne and Neil Spataro.

Photograph by Kati Best

The Northside Parade is the biggest community event of the year. After the last two years, how excited are Northsiders for its return?

Maggie: We received our first inquiry about the parade in January, so I think it’s safe to say people are ready! We’re so happy to be able to safely move forward, and I think a big outdoor celebration of Northside is what we all need right now.

What were the last two years like for you all? How did Northside come together to celebrate July Fourth in spite of the restrictions? 

Neil: Our planning begins each year in earnest in March, which in 2020 was obviously right when things escalated. We considered some alternatives that summer but in the end felt we had to cancel.

M: In 2021 we didn’t want a second summer to go by without marking the occasion, but we were wary of encouraging people to gather in massive groups. When we had to make these decisions, vaccines had not rolled out for all eligible groups yet, and we didn’t know what that world would look like. So we decided to help people around the neighborhood host block parties. We walked to all of them throughout the day, and you could see the community’s creative energy everywhere. People went all out for what we dubbed the Porch Parade, but even then they were asking about a parade the following summer.

That brings us to this month. What can festival-goers expect this year? Are there any new additions or events?

M: I think people can expect some _really enthusiastic parade entrants this year. A representative of one of the dance troupes told me they’d been working on their costumes since lockdown, so I think we’ll see a lot of creativity being released. Some of our participants are planning on doing glitter bombs, while another group’s theme is “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

There is an element of catharsis this year. I think the parade has always been a way to celebrate Northside and its quirks, but this year feels like a milestone—like if we can have our parade and be weird and have fun together, we’re breaking through some of the darkness of the last two years. 

What’s your favorite part about the Northside Fourth of July event?

M: Seeing all the different ways people express themselves. It sounds cheesy, but I love seeing that creative, funky Northside charm all compacted into a mile-long stretch of Hamilton Avenue. It’s pure concentrated fun!

N: It’s the energy of the crowd for me, especially once the parade reaches “downtown” Northside. There’s nothing like it. It truly is, as our predecessor put it, the best day of the year to be a Northsider—followed by every other day of the year.

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