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This Parade Strikes Out the Band

I came to Moscow, the tiny hamlet that straddles the Little River, just south of Stowe, Vt., to see a woman about a lawn chair. Or, more precisely, several women about several lawn chairs. The women, namely the Moscow All Ladies Lawn Chair Drill Team, are, according to some people, the real talent behind Moscow's quirky Fourth of July parade.

"Talent?... Hardly!" says Lynne Scarpa, one of the veteran marchers who each year thrill (well, perhaps that's a bit strong) paradegoers with their synchronized folding and unfolding of lawn chairs to the strains of John Philip Sousa. "Talent has very little to do with this parade," she says.

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Each Fourth of July morning, somewhere around 10 o'clock, most of Moscow's 100-and-some residents gather on Tom Hamilton's front lawn to take part in what has become one of Vermont's - and the nation's - most offbeat Independence Day parades. Unlike other parades, the Moscow version has no organizing committee, no grand marshal, no fancy floats, and - most important - no pretension. What it does have is a healthy helping of wry Vermont humor.

"We've been called 'bizarre,' " says longtime parade participant Anne Lusk. "And we take that as a compliment." This, from a woman who with her husband pushed a brass bed full of children through the parade one year. They were honoring the hamlet's label as "Stowe's bedroom community."

The parade traces its origins to 1976, when some civic-minded Muscovites decided to celebrate America's Bicentennial. "There were about 20 of us marching and about eight villagers watching," Mr. Hamilton recalls. "It took us less than five minutes to march the 150-yard parade route down Main Street, so when we passed the general store, we decided to turn around and march back."

Newcomers clean up

The route hasn't changed since. But other things have. The crowds have swelled. Last year, more than 1,000 bystanders crowded along the route. And the hamlet has, grudgingly, accepted entrants from nearby Stowe. While some purists balk at the Stowe Fire Department's entries (two pumper trucks, a rescue vehicle, and a hazardous-terrain vehicle, all with flashing lights and wailing sirens), others have made them feel welcome in the otherwise decidedly low-tech parade. "We feel sorry for them because they don't have their own parade," Hamilton notes.

Another change: the recent absence of horses from the parade. "Stowe's sirens scared them away," Ms. Scarpa says. "We've asked them to turn them off this year." Many hope for the return of the horses. For years, Moscow's newest residents were responsible for following the parade with a wheelbarrow and shoveling up horse droppings.

"It was our way of saying, 'Welcome to Moscow,' " Hamilton says.

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Although there were no horses in last year's parade, the hamlet's newest residents, George and Jacquie Gay, dutifully brought up the rear, armed with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. To make them feel part of the event, their children preceded them in a pickup truck, dropping horse manure over the tailgate.

The parade has only a few official rules. First, no one can prepare a float any earlier than the morning of the parade. Second, spending more than $10 is frowned upon. Third, no one can practice. The Muscovite women who make up the Moscow All Ladies Lawn Chair Drill Team openly flout this rule. "We like to look sharp," Scarpa says. Anyone who has witnessed the drill team will forgive them this transgression. Resplendent in floral-print shirts, shorts, and sunglasses, they open and close their lawn chairs in perfectly syncopated rhythm while they march in formation.

The men of the Moscow Radio All-Men's Marching Band, however, abide by the no-practice rule. And it shows. A somewhat dour, seemingly lackluster bunch (insiders explain that they abhor any hint of showmanship), they march through the streets with boomboxes solemnly perched on their left shoulders.

On command from their leader, who marches backward waving a baton at them, they switch their radios to their right shoulders. And back again. Somehow, this works.

'Kind of spooky, isn't it?

Each radio is tuned - full blast - to Waterbury radio station WDEV, which broadcasts marching music especially for the parade. Other Muscovites place their blaring radios in open windows; still others turn up their car radios. (WDEV's cooperation is a bit of a mystery; no one in Moscow ever asked the station to provide the parade's musical accompaniment. "It just happened," Hamilton explains. "Kind of spooky, isn't it?")

Although the marching Muscovites are fond of taking pokes at politicos via their floats, they draw the line at allowing them to join their parade. In 1996, the parade's 20th anniversary and an election year, Gov. Howard Dean and congressional candidate Susan Sweetser inquired about joining in. They were told, in no uncertain terms, that they would not be especially welcome. Wisely, they stayed away.

Each year, as word spreads, more and more visitors crowd into tiny Moscow for the 10-minute mini-pageant. CBS News has covered the event; so has the Associated Press and The New York Times.

Some residents wonder if all this notoriety is a good thing. "We used to end the parade with everybody going to the baseball field for cold drinks," Hamilton says wistfully. "But now, with all these people and traffic, those days are long gone."

Some actually practice

Even the parade's stars, the All Ladies Lawn Chair Drill Team, seem a bit jaded. A few years ago, they were invited to nearby Morrisville to do their thing in that village's Fourth of July parade. "But by the time we'd gotten there, we'd changed our minds," Scarpa says. "It just seemed like too much work, and their parade seemed way too organized. So we turned around and came home."

This year, the parade will again start around 10 and finish shortly thereafter. But visitors may be in for a special treat. Rumor has it that members of The Moscow Radio All-Men's Marching Band have been cheating: They've actually been practicing.

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