CherryFest2012-0564 By MIKE NORTON I’m not normally a crowd person — but there are times when I will gladly hang out with thousands of other people. Ball games, for instance. Oh, and the Junior Royale Parade at the National Cherry Festival. Now in its 88th year, the Cherry Festival (July 5-12) is Traverse City’s signature event, drawing as many as 500,000 attendees from around the country. And although some of my friends like to huff and puff about how long it lasts and how it snarls up traffic, most of us have events that we never miss if we can help it. I mean, with more than 150 family-friendly activities (air shows, fireworks, parades, games, races, midway rides, demonstrations, banquets and nightly outdoor concerts) it’s hard to avoid having a favorite. For some, it’s the stunning airshow over Grand Traverse Bay, especially in years like this one when the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels were the headliners. Even before the Festival officially gets underway, they gave us a Fourth of July treat, and for the next two days there were free shows in the sky. Some folks are also be excited that this year the  Detroit Red Wings are holding their annual development camp in Traverse City during Cherry Festival week. CherryFest2012-0688 Others love the nightly concerts down along the beach. This year’s lineup includes Collective Soul, Here Come the Mummies, the Bihlman Bros. (weren't those guys great?) the Gin Blossoms, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, the Under the Sun Tour (Sugar Ray, Smashmouth, Blues Traveler, and Uncle Kracker), Justin Moore, and Tommy James & The Shondells. Everybody has favorites: the marching band competitions, the food tastings, the fireworks, the midway rides, the excursions out to working cherry farms – after all, the Cherry Festival is still our way of celebrating Traverse City’s role as “America’s Cherry Capital.” And for many folks, the Big Event is the huge Cherry Royale Parade held on Saturday afternoon, the last day of the festival – an enormous procession of floats, bands, marching units, clowns and grinning politicians that draws 50,000 spectators each year. CherryFest2012-0675 But my favorite parade is a smaller affair, one that takes place on Thursday evening. The Junior Royale Parade is for kids – in fact, someone told me that it may be the largest all-kid parade in the country. Hundreds of youngsters make their way down the Traverse City streets, marching along, steering their decorated bikes and trikes, leading their reluctant pets, riding on their lovingly constructed school floats or dozing in their baby buggies. CherryFest2012-0877 - CopyMaybe it’s the early evening atmosphere, so cool and dreamy and filled with just-after-dinner contentment. Maybe it’s the earnest wholesomeness of the whole adventure. But when I’m sitting at the curb during the Junior Royale watching those kids go by, I feel a connection to a sweeter, less frantic time and place. I remember the sights, sounds and smells of summer celebrations when I was a kid – the kind of memories I hope my own kids have, the kind of memories that we should hold on to. The other thing I’ve always loved about the Cherry Festival is that most of it’s available to ordinary working people. Everything is located within walking distance, and since almost all the events are free, it offers more than a week of affordable family fun. I think that’s one reason why it’s been listed among USA Today’s top ten festivals for several years running.