With some additions, Williamstown makes a day of the Fourth

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Revelers were served a full slice of American life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness during the Fourth of July Festivities of the Village Beautiful.

The celebration Thursday, which included pies, ponies, a parade and a peaceful protest, began before dawn with route marking and traffic detail, and continued well after dusk through theater and fireworks, all at the hands of people who are passionate about preserving the livelihood and vibrancy of an idyllic small-town community.

Williamstown Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Susan Briggs and her son, Patrick, a ninth grade student, were out and about by 6 a.m., putting up signs, pop-up canopies and red, white and blue balloons around Spring Street, the center of activity for the day.

"Every year, we try to add something different," said Briggs, noting that this year's additions included a pie bake-off competition and new parade units, a record-setting 43 groups lining up.

Just after 8 a.m., volunteers Nicole Armbrust of Berkshire Fitness Co., Beth McLean and shop mascot Willy the black Labrador of Nature's Closet ushered off about 100 runners for the Race for Independence 5K Fun Run at Chapin Lawn.

With unofficial times of just under 18 minutes, 22 minutes, respectively, Williamstown native Nick Fogel and Williams College alumna Mary Ellen Moule, of New York City, were the top male and female race finishers. A spectator played tracks like C+C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" and Miley Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A." through a phone speaker to keep things upbeat while gift cards, swag and thick slices of ice cold watermelon were handed out at the finish line.

Not too long after Fogel and Moule finished, a young woman named Eva Beauchamp glided in, all smiles and grace. She and her family, of Savannah, Ga., had been visiting friends in Williamstown for a couple of weeks and decided to get up and race together. Dad Alex Beauchamp said he enjoyed the break from the summer heat and change of scenery.

"We love coming here. It's a nice little small-town atmosphere," mom Melissa Beauchamp said.

The cherry on top of the celebration included the free food. Visitors got a taste of the new version of The Williams Inn, which served up about 1,500 grilled hot dogs, 45 pounds of pulled pork sliders and 5 gallons of vegetarian tofu chili, according to chef Kevin DeMarco.

Seventeen pies were submitted to the inaugural pie bake-off, putting a lot of pressure on the plates of judges Antonello Di Benedetto, president of the chamber of commerce; pastry chef Leslie Milton of GoodNight Kitchen; and Town Manager Jason Hoch. Emily Bourguignon's entry, a cherry pie in strawberry shrub sauce and amaretti cookie crust, won them over, with Jason McDowell-Green's rhubarb cardamom cream pie and Venetia Greenhalgh's classic summer strawberry pie close runners-up.

Briggs said she loves the fact that the Williamstown Fourth of July festivities draw folks from here and afar.

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"I always think it's local, but Williamstown this time of year is everybody," she said.

In her thinking of everybody, 7-year-old Isa Giraldo, of Williamstown, set up a lemonade stand next to her grandmother's pottery display in the day's outdoor artisan market. All proceeds were to benefit the Berkshire Food Project, which grandmother Kathryn Benson volunteers with weekly. Isa joins her sometimes because "I wanted to help people who needed it. It makes me feel good."

Isa, who enlisted help from her mother, Ashley Benson, and Ashley's partner, Michael Smith, said it's important to make sure people have access to food year-round, "because it's helping them to survive."

Isa ultimately sold more than 140 cups of lemonade at a dollar apiece, and raised an additional $120 by posting her project on Facebook.

After the race, about 30 people gathered on Chapin Lawn for a community yoga and meditation practice, led by Tasha Yoga owner Natasha "Tasha" Judson. During the meditation, Judson asked participants "to stretch your heartstrings a little bit" by thinking of others, including those they might not be particularly fond of, and wishing them peace, happiness and "the ease of well-being."

She then had the group gather in a circle and symbolically toss those intentions out into the universe. The session ended in applause, rather than the more traditional "namaste."

"Yoga is all about freedom and happiness and expression," Judson said.

While crowds cheered on the colorful banners and displays of schoolchildren, farmers, firefighters, actors and others in the parade, several unofficial participants chose to express themselves through art and activism.

An anonymous artist set up a mural and mock coffin draped in a red tablecloth and wildflowers at the top of Spring Street. The mural depicts a smiling father and 23-month-old daughter scar Alberto Mart nez Ram rez and Angie Valeria, whose recent drowning at a border crossing near Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas, was captured in a photograph. The painting's caption reads: "In honour of all immigrants who pursue life, liberty, & happiness."

As members of the American Legion Post 152 honor guard kept unwavering cadence and members of the Williamstown League of Women Voters reminded viewers of the women's suffrage centennial, a group of young protesters cut into the parade lineup to march with black-and-white placards calling for actions like "Black and Indigenous Liberation Now," as well as for prison and immigration reforms. At least one audible "boo" came from a paradegoer in response to the protesters, while other people cheered them and later asked them questions during their sit-in at a standing-room-only reading in Sawyer Library.

A chorus of actors from the Williamstown Theatre Festival delivered effective readings of the Declaration of Independence, British reply and Frederick Douglass' July 5, 1852, speech, since referred to as "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?"

"This is America," said visitor Cindy Kaplan, who said she supports this range of expression and aspires to lead a liberty march of her own in the near future. "They're allowed to state what they want to state."


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