Oneonta celebrated Independence Day on Thursday with big crowds, high heat and a focus on family-friendly fun at First Night Oneonta’s annual Hometown 4th Festival.
Organizers said the free event brings an estimated 10,000 people to the city. Festivities included a 50-minute parade on Main Street featuring more than 100 entries; children’s activities, entertainment, food and demonstrations in Neahwa Park; admission to an evening Oneonta Outlaws game; and fireworks at dark.
“(Attendees) are largely from Oneonta, but it’s also the five adjacent counties,” said David Hayes, a First Night board member. “We draw from down to Binghamton and up to Utica because people will travel for this.”
“We get them from all over the area,” said Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner, who is also a First Night board member and was the parade's grand marshal.
The appeal, organizers said, lies in the day’s emphasis on low-cost, worry-free fun.
“We took it over from Townsquare Media in 2012 because we decided it fit our mission,” First Night Oneonta Chair Carol Mandigo said. “It’s an alcohol-free, drug-free, family-friendly thing that gives all the kids in town a chance to have something to do.”
“That’s our whole purpose — community-building projects and getting young people out and walking on Main Street,” Hayes said.
Mandigo said planning for Hometown 4th begins immediately after First Night each January and is overseen by the nonprofit’s nine-person board.
As an extension of First Night’s mission, Mandigo said, celebrations Thursday emphasized health.
“One of the most exciting things this year is our focus on family fitness,” she said. “There are so many people in this community trying to get healthy and this has always been a drug-free, alcohol-free day, but now we’re talking about how to get healthy and have fun. We’re trying to show people what’s available right here in Oneonta.”
Demonstrations and fitness tents showcased 12 area dance schools, karate centers and roller-derby clubs, Mandigo noted.
The afternoon parade, planners said, also saw hearty community involvement.
“I think it was a record-breaking year,” Mandigo said.
“We had a lot of participation … from a ton of community groups,” Hayes said, “and some unusual ones we haven’t had before, like the United States Postal Service, the Domino’s delivery car and Brooks. It lasted almost an hour, so for a small-town parade, I think that’s pretty good.”
Brenner said he considered attendance indicative of Oneonta’s citizenry.
“It’s fantastic. Oneonta is a great community and this just proves it,” he said. “And it’s always great when we can get 10,000 people to an event like this and have very minimal problems, that just speaks to the community.
First Night board members said the day’s success relies on fiscal and social support from area businesses and individuals.
“We’re a nonprofit, so we have donations from local businesses and foundations and the city donates services,” Mandigo said. “Five-Star Subaru is our major sponsor and (owner) Ben Guenther donates all the fireworks and the free Outlaws game every year.”
“This takes substantial financial support from the community,” Hayes said, “but it’s all free and it’s all fun.”
New and returning attendees said they appreciate the festival.
“It’s a family gathering,” said Vera Stewart, a 30-year Oneonta resident. “We come back (every year) and enjoy the parade, just seeing what’s going on and enjoying the friends we run into.”
First-time festivalgoer and five-year Oneonta resident Christine Pecoraro said she was impressed with the day’s offerings.
“It’s great,” she said. “I loved the parade and I loved that a lot of the community was involved. Parades are universal, like music.”
“This brings everyone together to celebrate the beginning of the summer,” Pecoraro continued, “and there’s something for everyone.”
For more information, find “First Night Oneonta” on Facebook.