WORCESTER — The vibes were very good in Worcester on Thursday as the tiny community celebrated Independence Day with a mix of flowers and Powers and a nod to the 50th anniversary of a fabled music festival.
Welcome to Worcesterstock!
A blast from the past celebration that had folks who opted not to channel their inner hippie getting a kick out of those who did, and more than a few youngsters honestly asking: “What’s Woodstock?”
That didn’t stop them from dressing the part.
Take 5-year-old Zeke Hamilton, whose colorful, tie-dyed T-shirt, over-sized polka dot pants and dark shades screamed 1969 even as he effortlessly and endlessly kept a Hula hoop much bigger than himself twirling around his waist in the middle of a crowded Ladd Field.
“He’s been practicing,” Sarah Hamilton said of her young son, who didn’t stand out because of the way he was dressed on Thursday — he blended right in.
That was the point.
On a day when there was no shortage of flags and red, white and blue were definitely dominant, residents and visitors alike embraced the Woodstock-inspired theme.
None did so with more enthusiasm than the Worcester Historical Society who poked fun at their advancing ages while expressing pride in their generation.
One carried a sign that said: “Grateful we’re not Dead yet,” another proclaimed “Earth Wind and Fiber,” walking behind a float the featured three women — Judy Knapp, Mary Ann Powers and Audrey Richardson — in rockers with walkers dressed the way they might have 50 years ago, while Harold Richardson and Marcy Frink lay at their feet in sleeping bags.
Carolyn Powers sat out this year’s parade — opting to watch instead — but her children and grandchildren made sure the Powers family was well-represented and on point in the parade.
Even without their matriarch there were enough of them to fill a good-sized flatbed trailer decorated in Woodstock-era fashion.
“Welcome to Hippie-Fest,” joked Danielle Bousquet, whose children, Charlee and Braydan, were also on board.
“Summer lovin’!, Worcesterstock here we come,” chortled Jan Cameron as the family float readied to roll and its youngest members armed themselves with water blasters to squirt the crowd along a parade route that ran through the village before veering off Route 12 on to Calais Road and ending just past Doty Memorial School.
It was a hot day, and Cameron predicted the water would be a welcome gift from the Powers to the people.
There were a lot of people. More than usual, according to regular parade watchers, who said this year’s edition was longer than most.
There were three grand marshals — all them chosen because they were at Woodstock 50 years ago. Two of them — Avram Patt and Marty McMahon — walked in the parade, while the third, Russell Edson, caught a ride.
While waiting for the parade to start, Edson recalled going to Woodstock when he was 17.
“When I got there the gates were … down and it was a sea of humanity,” he said. “It was a free concert at that point.”
It would have been worth the price of admission, Edson said..
“You had half a million suburban kids sitting in a cow pasture in the middle of the country for three days of peace and love and music,” he said. “It was priceless.”
Patt, now a local lawmaker, said he bought tickets to Woodstock but “lost them in the mud” 50 years ago.
“Had I held on to them I could have made a ton of money on eBay,” he said.
McMahon, a Massachusetts native who was 20, “sort of attending college” in Nebraska and was two weeks away from joining the Air Force when he attended Woodstock 50 years ago.
“It was a mind-blowing, life-changing, … uplifting experience,” he said.
“It was kind of like the Fourth of July in Worcester,” the guitar-toting grand marshal said with a grin. “Everybody coming together and just having a good time.”
The similarities pretty much stopped there, but the observation underscored a celebration that — theme or no theme — pulls the Worcester community together.
It started quietly on Thursday when Wayne Holland arrived at Ladd Field at 7:30 a.m. to start a fire in the rectangular barbecue pit he built out of cinder blocks. An hour later, the local firefighter added the first of the 130 chicken quarters he used to cook on a grill he made out of a 275-gallon oil drum before shifting to the cinder block contraption last year.
“It cooks faster and I have more control,” he explained while deftly moving the chicken around and lamenting the fact he wasn’t at the fire station washing the trucks in advance of the parade.
“On a day like today a little water might be nice,” he said.
At the fire station Chief Will Sutton was holding a garden hose and supervising a pre-parade Fourth of July tradition.
“We wash them whether they need it or not,” Sutton said of the gleaming trucks while giving Deputy Sheriff Shaun McManis’ car — the first vehicle in Thursday’s parade — a once-over.
While Sutton was washing McManis’ car and Holland was cooking chicken, portable gazebos were popping up on Ladd Field where Holly Perdue was putting the finishing touches on the peeled red maple pole that birthed an Independence Day legend in Worcester a few years back. That, she said, is when Noah Book climbed to the top and claimed what was then a $20 prize.
The feat has been repeated by more than few Worcester youngsters since, but the $20 reward evaporated after Book blazed the trail.
“Now it’s just for glory,” said Neal Maker, who was helping Perdue with this year’s pole.
Ladd Field was near-empty at the time. Two hours later the reverse was true.
There was Hamilton and his mom displaying their Hula hoop prowess, while children and adults played everything from an over-sized game of Kerplunk and Cornhole to Tetherball and horseshoes.
The celebration, which was scheduled to end with music and fireworks, got an early thumbs up from long-time Worcester residents and those who haven’t lived in town for long.
Bill Sargent settled in Worcester in 1957, and he decorated his John Deere Gator expecting a visit for his great-grandchildren, Eden and Asher Swenson. Eden, 4, and Asher, 6, didn’t disappoint and Sargent, who lives next door to where the parade assembles, was among those who observed it seemed bigger this years.
“The Fourth of July is always a good day in Worcester,” he said.
Sargent wouldn’t have gotten an argument from recent arrivals Daniel and Sierra Mencucci and their children, Maia and Kellon. The Mencucci’s settled in Worcester hoping to find a farm several months ago and participated in their first Independence Day parade leaving bubbles — large and small — in their wake.
Though the family will soon be moving to Walden where they found a farm, Daniel Mencucci said they will be back in Worcester for the Fourth of July next year.
“It feels like home,” he said.