The 117th Luther Burbank Rose Parade rolled through Santa Rosa Saturday with a decidedly country flair, cowboy boots and ten-gallon hats marking the procession in the city's most venerable community event.
Marching bands struck up classic tunes from Hollywood westerns, hay bales doubled as seats on floats, and little dudes bearing stick ponies trotted alongside riders on real steeds.
"The cowboy era is still here," said Santa Rosa resident Dave Bell, one of thousands of onlookers who lined downtown streets for the two-and-a-half hour parade.
"Rose Town Hoedown," was the theme for this year's event, a tribute to the Old West.
It was fitting, organizers said, because like any tough wrangler, the parade has picked itself up from recent economic woes. Donations, sponsorships and entry fees this year surpassed the parade's $85,000 operational budget. About 180 entries also made the show bigger than any in the last decade, organizers said.
Onlookers said they were grateful for the rebound.
Santa Rosa resident Victoria Littlejohn, 53, who usually works on weekends, attended her first parade Saturday, bringing along friends and family.
"I knew they were struggling," she said of past years. "We just wanted to come and enjoy the parade and see what it is all about."
In addition to the western-themed entries, there were performers representing Chinese, Mexican, Italian and Native American heritage.
Transportation included antique fire engines, classic cars, a clean-fuel city bus and dozens of decorated bicycles.
Long-time parade-goers John and Grace Wright of Santa Rosa said they appreciated the event's diversity.
"It has the air of unpolished performance, which is just great," said John Wright, 62.
A group of two-dozen Mexican charro horsemen was among the day's most popular entries. Crowds cheered as their horses pranced up E Street to the beat of traditional Mexican music.
From his front-row seat on the sidewalk, Patrick Gardner, 4, was riveted by the show. He wore cowboy boots, a black cowboy hat, and a silver-colored belt buckle he was proud to show off.
"I think he's got the idea," said his father, Doug Gardner.
A post-parade festival in Courthouse Square featured food, live music, roping demonstrations and an "Iron Chef"-style cooking competition among local high school culinary arts programs.
Santa Rosa police said they did not have an estimate on crowd size.
More than 3,000 people participated in the parade, organizers said. They credited year-round fundraising efforts with helping bring the event back to fiscal health. In 2009, especially, the parade was in peril due to lagging financial support.
Donations of $25,000 each from philanthropist Henry Trione and North Bay Corp. President James Ratto kept the event alive last year. Both men contributed significantly to this year's event, organizers said, while declining to give the amount of their donations.
Santa Rosa councilman Scott Bartley said community support for the event was evident Saturday in the throngs of participants and spectactors.
"I think we've got a particularly dedicated corps of citizens that are stepping up," he said while taking in the parade near the judging platform on Fourth Street. Next to him stood Santa Rosa vicemayor and political ally Jake Ours. Both were dressed in full western regalia, cowboy hats and all.