Community, Springfield

Independence Day: Springfield fireworks, park activities a hit

SPRINGFIELD — The Light of Liberty (LOL) celebration last week lived up to its promise of “a party with a purpose,” drawing crowds, talent, and good times from around the region. 

Springfield Utility Board’s community relations manager Meredith Clark said Light of Liberty took about six months of planning, but it was worth it because money was raised for Project Share: SUB’s program to help customers receive financial assistance in paying their electricity bills. The total amount raised is still being tallied. 

Clark emphasized that LOL is really a “party with a purpose” because there is proof of community within an event that is a “beautiful expression of public power.” She said that LOL being both a Fourth of July event and a fundraising event for the community was rather fitting.

“I love the fact that we have local governments, local control, and all those things are a microcosm of American democracy,” Clark said.

Community relations assistant Gregory Hayes designed the T-shirts for the event and has been with SUB for 24 years.

“It’s great. It makes it meaningful. It’s great to have a party, but it’s people showing up to help their neighbors, their community, that makes all the difference,” Hayes said.

Good tunes

A reprieve from the weather wasn’t the only thing people found in the shady area where the main stage at Island Park was located; they also found the groovy tunes of three music groups. 

First up was Jet Harris and his Hotrod Hellcats, a rock’n’roll group that’s been together for 25 years. Second was the Greg Nestler Band, and finally the headliner ABBAcadabra, the ultimate ABBA tribute band.

By the time ABBAcadabra came on, the main stage was packed with locals enjoying over 15 ABBA hits. ABBAcadabra became the headliner of the night thanks to the work of SUB’s Clark.

“Meredith was really the one that got us here,” said Gary Raffanelli, the executive producer of the band who also plays ABBA’s Benny. “We met her for the first time today, but we’ve been in contact over email and phone for four or five months now.”

ABBAcadabra consists of: Raffanelli, Rich Hamelin playing Bjorn, Susan Campbell playing Agnetha, and Lesley Green playing Frida.

“I’m from the Bay Area, Rich is from Toronto, Susan is from Thunder Bay in Canada, and Lesley’s from Denver,” Raffanelli said. “We’re from all over, but the credit has to go to ABBA because they’re the ones who made all of this possible.”

While ABBA’s the ones who made the tribute band a possibility, the performance that Springfield saw was thanks to much pre-production work.

“This is not an easy show to set up. We’ve been here all day making sure that the sound is right and the lights are right,” Campbell said. “It was all worth it, though, the crowd and the energy tonight was so great.”

Kids Nation and volunteers

The LOL’s kids area was fit for all ages to join in on the silliness. Parents and kiddos were cheesing throughout this area of the park, petting animals, getting airbrush tattoos, and taking reprieve from the heat in the shadows of the towering trees.

“The Fourth has always been a time for families to get together, and I’m happy to give that up to see other people having fun,” said Theresa Bergman, a second-time volunteer.

Light of Liberty was described to be an event perfect for family fun – and the family fun didn’t stop at just the attendees. Fifteen-year-old Kyler Wagoner helped his dad Alex with the glitter tattoo booth, while Kyler’s mom Chelsea took charge of the face-painting booth, and Kyler’s grandmother Debbie McDowell was tying up animal-shaped balloons at her booth.

“We really started expanding the business this year – 541 Celebrations is our name. In previous years, it was just me, working as a face painter, and this year we decided to make it a whole family thing,” Chelsea said.

The most popular attractions were the ones which involved animals: the pony rides, the petting zoo, and Newport Disovery Zoo’s booth – which featured a baby kangaroo and a Patagonian Mara. Petting zoo volunteer Dena Lesolen said her favorite part of working with animals is seeing the kids’ reactions.

“A lot of times, it’s the kids’ first time actually seeing a live animal, rather than in a book or a movie, so it’s fun to see them interact,” Lesolen said.

The blow-up slides and obstacle courses were also big selling points for the kids, as 8-year-old Brooklynn Goding smiled ear-to-ear going down the inflatable slide next to the Springfield Police Department booth and the Team Duckling booth.

Reporters Amanda Lurey, Pierre Weil, and Sophia Haggerty contributed to this report. 

Gallery: All photos by Bob Williams



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