The Madison Regatta Parade is one of the most popular events of festival week. Every year thousands of spectators line Main Street, many staking out their favorite spots long before daybreak.

But this year's Regatta Parade will feature several changes from past years. While some of the changes will be immediately noticeable, many will fly under the average spectator's notice.

All of the changes are designed to streamline the parade and comply with new guidelines established by the City of Madison.

This year marks the first time the city has been in charge of the parade after 40 years of Regatta control. The change was made because of insurance concerns. While the city has final say, it has left it up to Regatta Festival Chairperson Amy Ralston to iron out the details.

As a result, Ralston has been working to improve the parade while sticking to the guidelines set forth by the city.

"There is going to be a lot of trial and error this year," Ralston said. "We're going to be putting a new face on the parade."

The biggest change spectators will notice is the later starting time of 7:15 p.m. and a shorter parade.

After last year's record-high temperatures, Ralston decided to take advantage of the longer days by starting the parade later.

"It will help with getting people and boats off the river and it will help with the heat," Ralston said. "And since we expect it to be a shorter parade it shouldn't interfere with the music on the river (later in the night)."

For years, any business or organization could enter the parade free of charge. As a result, the parade sometimes lasted nearly three hours.

Starting this year, the Regatta will charge $50 for groups and businesses to enter a float. The exception will be nonprofit groups and schools. Ralston thinks the Regatta can reduce the number of entries while also putting on a more entertaining show.

The theme for this year's parade is "America: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow." The grand marshal is former Cincinnati Bengal running back Elbert "Ickey" Woods.

Woods, who was one of the stars of the Bengals' 1988 Super Bowl team, is just the second former or current NFL player to serve as Regatta Grand Marshal. Gary Padgen of the Indianapolis Colts served in the role in 1984.

The parade will take place Friday, July 5. This year marks the 43rd straight year that the Regatta has put on a parade. The first parade was held in 1971 in conjunction with the city's first APBA Gold Cup.