Gatlinburg Kicks off 4th Festivities Early

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Gatlinburg, Sevier County (WVLT) - The Independence Day celebrations kicked off right here in Tennessee as Gatlinburg hosted its 32nd annual midnight parade Wednesday morning.

The city expected more than 80,000 patriots to pack the sidewalks, Volunteer TV's Mike McCarthy was among them.

"We got a spirit yes we do! We got spirit how about you?"

To call James McElveen and his family patriotic is an understatement. "We love the fun. We love the midnight parade."

So much, he's sat curbside for Gatlinburg's Fourth of July kick-off 26 years straight, all the way from South Carolina.

A party of around 80,000 patriots, packed on balconies and sidewalks, all to see the nation's first Fourth of July parade. Underway just after midnight.

"You can't beat it for the Fourth of July. The people, the celebration, the patriotism,” says McElveen.

And patriotism's everywhere, on clothes, on the sidewalks, in hands, even in hair.

Each flag, "means independence! It means freedom!” McElveen claimed his spot more than three hours before the bagpipes blew.

But across the street.

"We got here about 3:45,” and first thing Ruth Beason did, "Sit up the chairs in our spot."

But the eight hours wait not just to watch Rocky Top tap dancing. "It's for our service guys. I respect all our services guys and women."

And the parade paid its respect as well.

Each branch of the armed forces stood proud atop their float, cheered on by the crowd.

More than 100 other floats in all.

Even first timers say it was a fourth like never before.

"I was expecting the same old usual candy throwing, saying hi to everybody, but it was a lot different,” says Courtney Bonaquisti.

Though the parade's nearly two hour length weighed on some.

"I know you're tired, baby. I’m tired too."

McElveen says every moment's "Good family fun."

The Southeastern Tourism Society named the midnight parade one of the top 20 events in the region.

The parade also commemorated Gatlinburg’s bicentennial celebration.

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