St. Chuck Amok 

Different river, same idea

Admit it. No matter what area of the political spectrum you fall into, it's a tough and confusing time to be a patriot. The facts change from day to day and every time you look at the news, there's a new threat of some sort. At least this year, celebrating your patriotism will be easier, because you have a choice in where you go to fly your fireworks-freak flag.

Skip the crowds, traffic and high-Hoosier density of Fair St. Louis and head to St. Charles' RiverFest 2003, an alternate weekend of Independence Day fun centered in Frontier Park on the St. Charles Riverfront (where the Hoosiers will have room to breathe). Festivities start with the 10 a.m. parade on July 4 , which features a military-retrospective display, and they continue with carnival rides, games, vendors, concessions, an array of beer gardens and even that most American of institutions, the Disney Spectacular.

And what says "America" better than Southern rock'n'roll from the mid-'80s? On July 5, the Fabulous Thunderbirds (pictured, above) will be tough enough to go out and play in the sweltering summer weather. Then, closing the festival on July 6, the highly underrated Georgia Satellites will keep their hands to themselves (we can hope) but share their music with all in attendance.

Finally, this being America, things need to be bigger and more impressive than they're required to be. One fireworks display isn't enough for us anymore, and your good friends in the city of St. Charles realize this -- which is why they have fireworks on both the Fourth and the Sixth at dusk. All this means that if you aren't in St. Charles kicking back with a cold one this weekend, the, er, French will have already won. -- Niles Baranowski

Webster's Wicked Ways

When Webster University Lions Club event-planner Kim Pepple says that the annual Webster Groves Community Days Fourth of July Celebration "is right out of Norman Rockwell," he means carnival games, Ferris wheels, hot dogs and the whole megillah. "It's almost a July Fourth parallel to Brigadoon," he adds. "Everybody gets along, everybody's friendly, there's barbecue smoke in the air and cotton candy in everyone's hand." Tiptoe through the tulips at Memorial Park (Glendale Road at Elm Avenue, 314-963-5600, free admission), Wednesday, July 2, through Saturday, July 5, and enjoy a parade, rides, games, the renowned Webster Lions barbecue (try the smoked chicken) and fireworks. Don't forget the Miss Webster Groves Pageant and the live music, featuring bands with members of regional dinosaur-rock groups Mama's Pride and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. -- Byron Kerman


THUR 7/3

Looking for someplace to celebrate the Empire's high holy day that isn't St. Louis or Hermann? Then off you go to scenic Riverfront Park in Alton, Illinois, for the Mississippi Fireworks Festival. It's free (but bring money for food and drink, of course), and for those of you who just can't wait until Friday to put on your sleeveless T-shirt, eat hot dogs, and watch big, pretty, and fiercely patriotic colors explode over the Mississippi, you're in luck -- this one's on Thursday from 5 p.m. to midnight, so you can get an early start on your beer-drinking/flag-waving weekend. Call 618-463-3526 for more details. -- Mark Dischinger


FRI 7/4

Looking for someplace to celebrate the Empire's high holy day that isn't St. Louis or Alton? Then off you go to scenic Riverfront Park in Hermann, Missouri, for what's being promoted as an old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration, complete with a parade at 4 p.m., Lions Club Kettle Korn, a concert band that evening and finally (in a bit of unconventional wisdom that really raises the bar) a "huge" fireworks display. Okay, we've just exceeded the limit of Independence Day jokes under the Patriot Act with this plug and the Alton one, so let's just say take the kids to German Hermann, where it will be organized and very much fun. Call 573-486-2313 for more details. -- Mark Dischinger

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