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Healdsburg on Thursday staged its 64th annual Twilight Parade, an enduring slice of Americana that highlights the town's agricultural roots.

The parade, which heralds the arrival of Memorial Day weekend and a two-day Future Farmers Fair, wended its way through 10 downtown blocks led by American Legion veterans, cub scouts and FFA members, followed by more than 90 other parade entrants.

Longtime residents say the event hasn't changed much since it began in 1950, when Healdsburg was more farming community than hip Wine Country destination.

"It was 90 percent locals until the grapes and the tourists," is how City Councilman Gary Plass, 59, remembers the bygone parades. "Now, we have a greater audience. But we still have all the locals come and enjoy it."

As a boy, he participated in the Future Farmers Fair and raised a champion lamb. On Thursday, he rode near the front of the parade with other City Council members.

It's "a big block party. Everyone looks forward to it," is how Mayor Susan Jones described the event.

"It's the one time of the year everyone gets a chance to highlight what they're into, whether it's a nonprofit they work for, or a business, or a kid's karate team, or jazz band. Whatever, it's in the parade," she said.

"It's small-town Americana at its finest," said Police Chief Kevin Burke, just before pulling away in his police cruiser near the front of the procession. "It's my favorite day of the year. I love it. It reminds me of why I left LAPD," he said, adding that he enjoys "the simplicity of it."

He had 350 small American flags that he was ready to hand out to people along the route.

The parade, following much the same route it always has, traces its humble beginnings to when about 10 men on tractors decided to drive through the town to drum up business for the fair held for agriculture students.

It still has all the necessary ingredients for a parade: waving beauty queens, antique cars and trucks, pristine fire engines, marching bands and schoolchildren, some doing cartwheels or gyrating with hula hoops. There was a squad of smartly costumed Mexican caballeros astride prancing Arabian horses.

But there also were signature parts of the community, such as the players on the team of the resurrected Healdsburg Prune Packers Baseball Club, along with area wineries and members of the Healdsburg Farmers Market.

Costeaux French Bakery, which traces its roots in town to 1923, had a truck in the procession and handed out samples of its artisan bread and cookies to the spectators lining the streets.

Well before the parade got rolling,

Denis Killen, a retired Geyserville resident, staked out a spot for his chair on the sidewalk of Center Street, along with his wife and another couple.

"I've seen a few of these," he said, before adding a familiar refrain about the twilight parade: "Half the town's in it, and half the town's watching."

"It's one of the most fabulous community boosters and amazing showpieces of this whole area," is how Susan Butler of Santa Rosa described the parade.

She and her husband, Joel, sat along Matheson Street waiting for their two grandchildren, budding martial artists showing off their talent in the parade.

Across the street from the Healdsburg Plaza, grape grower Steve Brooks, 67, was standing with some friends, who were joking that there had better not be a 911 call somewhere else, since all the fire trucks seemed to be in the parade.

"I've watched 40 of these," he said of the twilight parade, adding that it attracts hometown people you don't see all year. "You see all ages, and everyone has a great time," he said.

"It's such a happy town. I love it here," said his friend Stacey Christiansen, who said she has steadily migrated north from Cotati to Santa Rosa.

Mayor Jones remembered the first time she saw the parade in 2002, when she came from Concord to take over as police chief in Healdsburg.

People had lined the street the day before with chairs and blankets to reserve a good viewing spot. After coming from a bigger city, she was amazed that "nobody steals this stuff."

It's possible, she said, because "in a small city like Healdsburg, everyone knows each other."

The Healdsburg Future Farmers Country Fair continues today and Saturday at Recreation Park, where sheep, poultry, goats, rabbits and livestock are on display or up for auction.

This year's homespun theme is "Blue Jeans and Country Dreams."

There also are exhibits, the Swan Brothers Circus and a midway with food and game booths benefitting nonprofits.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.