Hilliard’s Independence Day celebration will begin with a parade at 9 a.m. Thursday, July 4 – one hour earlier than in previous years – and conclude with the city’s first Freedom Fest concert with country-music artist Rodney Atkins.

The Franklin County Agricultural Society’s Fourth of July parade will be led by grand marshal Jim Rice and, as usual, will step off from the Franklin County Fairgrounds, 4100 Columbia St., and onto Main Street.

The time was moved up to allow the parade, sometimes nearly two hours in duration, to conclude before noon when temperatures often begin to increase, said Chuck Buck, president of the Franklin County Agriculture Society fair board.

The theme of the parade is “Freedom to the Moon and Back,” a nod to the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing July 20, 1969.

Registration to participate in the parade will be accepted until Sunday, June 30, via hilliardindependencedayparade.org, which also is accessible through hilliardohio.gov.

Commercial vehicles must be decorated and are limited to one per organization or individual, including politicians, Buck said.

“We want people to put a little effort (into decorating) and want to make the parade as enjoyable as we can for spectators and participants,” Buck said.

Those who desire to march toward the front of the parade would need to show up early.

The lineup will begin about 6:30 a.m. on “a first-come, first-served basis,” Buck said.

The parade route is southwest on Main Street, southeast on Norwich Street, west on Cemetery Road and south on Main Street, ending at the Hilliard United Methodist Church, 5445 Scioto Darby Road.

The grand marshal, Rice, 90, said he has lived all but the first four years of his life in Hilliard or Norwich Township after his family moved to a farmhouse near Amity and Patterson roads.

“I’m honored to be chosen,” said Rice, who served 12 years as president of the fair board and as a Norwich Township trustee for 32 years – eight terms from 1972 until 2004.

He and his wife of 69 years, Lois, have three children, nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

After the parade, Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park, 3800 Veterans Memorial Drive, will open at 11:30 a.m. for the Freedom Fest celebration, but entertainment will not begin until 3 p.m. A shuttle service will begin at 3 p.m. and operate until midnight from the Franklin County Fairgrounds, 4100 Columbia St., to Heritage Middle School, 5670 Scioto Darby Road.

The Hilliard Family Aquatic Center will be open from noon to 6 p.m. and food trucks will be in operation from 3 to 11 p.m. A list of vendors is available at hilliardohio.gov on the “Freedom Fest” tab.

The lineup of live entertainment includes pop-rock bands from Bradley, Darby and Davidson high schools and the band Threat Level Midnight, which features Hilliard alumni.

Simba Jordan, a Columbus native and Columbus Brookhaven High School graduate who performs nationally, will take the stage from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The headliner, Atkins, will perform from 8:15 to 9:45 p.m.

Atkins’ hit singles include “Farmer’s Daughter,” “Take a back Road,” “It’s America,” “Watching You” and “These are My People.”

“We are excited to bring (Atkins) to Hilliard’s Freedom Fest (and) elevate an already fantastic event for our residents,” said Ed Merritt, director of the Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department.

As usual, a fireworks display will close the evening. The event is free but seating is not provided.

Personal items may be used to reserve seating, beginning at 11:30 a.m., according to hilliardohio.gov.

Beach umbrellas, grills, tents, personal fireworks, drones, glass containers and alcohol are among prohibited items.