CLINTON — The scene at the Clinton fairgrounds on Bangor Road was both familiar and different Monday afternoon. A band was covering Green Day songs. Food vendors lined the perimeter. Kids jumped in a bounce house and pet barnyard animals. People milled about in red, white and blue shirts. It was familiar to anyone who, for the past quarter of a century, had traveled to Winslow. It was new for the town of Clinton.

That is because 2017 marks the first time Clinton has hosted what used to be known as the Winslow Family 4th of July Celebration and is now called the Central Maine 4th of July: The Great American Celebration.

This is the first year the celebration has called Clinton home. For the past 26 years, the event was held in Fort Halifax Park in Winslow. However, tension grew between Winslow and the event organizers, a nonprofit group with a board of directors who put on the event with volunteers. It wasn’t clear the event would even go on this year. The organization moved on from Winslow, but there was doubt the event would find a new home, as Fairfield passed on the event. Finally, the group came to an agreement with the Clinton Lions Club to host the two-day, multi-event celebration at the fairgrounds of the Clinton Lions Agricultural Fair on Bangor Road.

Charles Brown, chairman of what was the Winslow Family 4th of July Committee, said the first day of the celebration’s new life in Clinton had gotten off to a good start. While there weren’t many people at the event around 1 p.m., Brown said that was not surprising, as it was a Monday in the middle of the day. He said he expected more people to come out for the events at night that included more bands and a singing competition.

“It’s been great,” Brown said of the day so far.

Kevin Douglass, vice chairman of the committee, and Brown both said that the town and Lions Club had been incredibly accommodating. Douglass went so far as to say that the stress level of putting the events together had been “zero” because of how accommodating the Lions Club had been.

“The town was behind us 100 percent, which is a really good feeling,” Douglass said.

The two-day festival began Monday with a number of family-oriented events like a petting zoo and pony rides. That is similar to past iterations of the celebration. Brown said it was good to have more events geared toward children this year.

Douglass said that in past years, the kids’ events weren’t as popular. In Winslow, he said, usually about 20 to 30 kids came for the kids’ day, but this year he expected more, adding they were able to bring back the more popular staples like the bounce house and petting zoo. Most of the events going on Monday afternoon were geared toward children, including face painting. “It’s going better than expected,” Douglass said,

Musical performances and the Central Maine 4th of July Idol Competition were also slated for Monday, and almost 30 different vendors had spread out on the fairgrounds.

The Maine Ghostbusters, a group of fans of the “Ghostbusters” movies who dress up as the characters and support fundraising efforts, will be there both days, as the celebration continues on Tuesday, July 4.

Douglass said the outreach to nonprofit organizations to participate had been amazing. Maine Farm Days will hold a silent auction and bake sale. Seven different nonprofits were set up around the fairgrounds, including the local Boy Scouts, a group called Bikers Against Child Abuse and the Clinton Lions Club, organizations that were able to come to the event and raise money for their programs at no charge, as long as they agreed to help clean up the fairgrounds after the celebration ends.

The celebration will conclude Tuesday night with a fireworks display after the sun goes down. Additionally, Douglass said, the Fairfield chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars purchased the fireworks.

In the past, the multi-day event featured a parade through Winslow, live music, contests and fireworks at Fort Halifax Park on the Kennebec River. It sometimes attracted 70,000 people to the park — nearly 10 times the population of the town — and was viewed as too large for the venue. The crowd at Fort Halifax spilled out onto the main road, which is U.S. Route 201, and that created traffic congestion when the fireworks went off. The rising cost of local police coverage was one of the major reasons cited by town officials and organizers for the falling out between Winslow and the celebration committee.

The event had moved to Winslow after a disastrous alcohol-fueled celebration at Head of Falls in Waterville in 1990. A couple hundred intoxicated people jumped up and down on the Two Cent Bridge until part of it broke, and four police officers were injured in confrontations.

As for the town of Winslow, this year there are no Fourth of July events. The town is still owed more than $13,000 from the celebration organizers.

Before celebration organizers settled with Clinton, it wasn’t a sure bet the event actually would happen. The organizers got off to a rocky start with the Lions Club when they failed to show up at a meeting, which was a familiar pattern, as the organizers also had missed meetings in Fairfield when they were eying that town as a possible location.

The Fairfield Town Council ultimately decided not to pursue the kind of celebration the organizers had proposed.

The agreement with the Clinton Lions eventually did materialize.

On a warm, sunny summer Monday, Douglass said it was rewarding to see everything paying off. He said a lot of hard work went into finding a new home and setting the fairgrounds up, so it was nice to see it all in motion. He also said the organizers plan to continue expanding next year.

One notable absence in 2017 is the parade, which he called the largest July 4 parade in Maine. Next year, organizers plan to bring it back.

While the early Monday afternoon crowd wasn’t huge, people still seemed to be enjoying themselves. Canaan resident Rochelle Poirier was there with her grandson Bodhi, who she said was just six-months-old so he couldn’t participate in all the activities. But he had his picture taken with the Ghostbusters and he loved the petting zoo.

“We’re loving it,” she said.

Poirier had gone to the Winslow celebration for the last 25 years, so when she heard it was shifting to Clinton, she decided to go with it. She said other than the venue being roomier, there weren’t many noticeable differences in the events, and there were plenty of activities to do. She said in Fort Halifax Park, it was “shoulder to shoulder,” as the park is smaller. As for the celebration at the Clinton site, she said, “I’m looking forward to seeing how they build it.”

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: