Big crowds turned up on Tuesday at Brownwood’s Riverside Park for the annual Brownwood Jaycees Riverfest, enjoying the event’s many offerings like live music, bounce houses, laser tag, food, vendors, kayaking, a car show and more.   

The Fourth of July is celebrated with events like Riverfest and fireworks displays across the country, but it all goes back to one fateful day in Philadelphia when our Founding Fathers decided to begin this American experiment in self-determination. The Bulletin asked several Riverfest attendees for their thoughts — what does the Fourth of July mean to you?   

Ballinger resident Mary Jones said she enjoys the Fourth because her family comes together to celebrate. “I’ll take the kids to go and pop fireworks sometimes,” she said.   

Brownwood’s Scott Johnson said it’s an opportunity to remember those who fought for freedom. “We’re all thankful for being free,” he said. “It came at a price — a really big price. It always does.”   

Early resident John Williams, who volunteered at the event and participated in the raft race, shared similar sentiments. “It’s really just a day to celebrate all the people who have bought and paid for our freedom,” Williams said. “It’s kind of known for fireworks and parties and all that stuff, but at the heart it’s about all the people who served and made America possible.”   

The Bulletin found some Riverfest attendees who are more intimately familiar with that sacrifice. Dennis Swain owns the local laser tag venue The Phoenix’ Lair, and he set up a temporary course for kids to play on during Riverfest.   

For Swain, Independence Day is not only an opportunity to honor his late wife, who was killed in 2012 while serving in the Army — it’s also her birthday. “She was born on the Fourth,” he said, “so this is kind of a dually special day for Liam and I.”   

Swain’s son Liam was in the middle of a round of laser tag when we spoke.   

“We really celebrate the Fourth on many levels,” Swain said. “[Liam]’s got a framed certificate that Obama sent to him. It’s just a regular letter, but he signed it. He’s proud of it.   

“Independence Day is what this country’s about. It’s my favorite day of the year,” he said.   

Brownwood resident Linzie Wright was at Riverfest showcasing LuLaRoe, a women’s clothing brand she offers as an independent retailer. Wright, whose father served in the Army, said the Fourth is an especially meaningful day for veterans and their families.   

“To me, it means history and freedom. It’s a celebration of what our forefathers did to achieve this country,” Wright said. “And remembering those who served. I love the Fourth of July a lot.   

“I know the sacrifice that’s made to keep this country free, and I think it needs to be celebrated,” she said.