Tonight people will gather, possibly hundreds, in downtown Keene for the Be the Light event planned by the Keene Interfaith Clergy Association.
The event was planned as a night of peace and unity in response to the clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville, Va. The Aug. 12 riots in Charlottesville climaxed with a car plowing into the crowd causing the death of a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring a dozen other people.
What took place in Charlottesville that day seems strange and distant to me. Not the America I live in. But the city of Keene was soon in the spotlight following the riots when a self-proclaimed white nationalist Christopher Cantwell of Keene went on YouTube and cried about warrants for his arrest for his alleged actions in the Charlottesville riots.
Now last weekend many in the region felt it was important to attend a counter protest to the violence that was held in Boston.
I decided it was important to attend the Jaffrey Festival of Fireworks, held last Saturday.
I have always been the kind of person to watch the Jaffrey Festival of Fireworks from afar.
I have never wanted to venture behind the fence into the Jaffrey airport to be one of the spectators; I don’t like the large crowds or the parking situation.
But this year I felt compelled. As a local reporter I’ve written about the festival many times, but never actually attended.
Upon entering I found the scene sort of bizarre and desolate. The Monadnock Region is lush and green during the summer. So it was strange to be on a large flat paved piece of land with tens of thousands of other people, camped around the airport like nomads just passing through. It is an airport, I thought, and I could see Mount Monadnock in the distance so that was reassuring.
At 6 p.m. the airport already seemed full of people. Organizers were expecting up to 20,000 people or more by the end of the night. It had a carnival atmosphere without the midway. There was live music from local bands and vendors all up and down the runway selling mostly food.
You could buy calzones and fried dough from commercial vendors. You could also buy deep fried alligator (yes alligator), pickles, Oreos and Twinkies from local non-profits raising money for their service clubs and sports teams.
Vendors were also pushing shopping carts up and down the runway, selling knickknacks and carnival toys, t-shirts, and funny hats. Many of these items lit up, like the toy swords. I’m not sure what the vendors were thinking, it wasn’t long before light saber fighters were breaking out amongst the toddlers.
The violence of Charlottesville was still weighing on my mind, but I was surrounded by tens of thousands of people just bent on having a good time. I decided to focus on capturing the essense of exactly what was going on around me.
And that’s when I saw them three men wearing pink cowboy hats that they had just purchased from a vendor. I made my way towards them with my camera in hand. They saw me and knew I was coming for them. They smiled with embarrassment, but rose to greet me.
The men were from Vermont, which is about an hour’s drive away. They came because the Festival of Fireworks in Jaffrey is the best fireworks show in a 200-mile radius, they told me.
These men were having a great time and the fireworks show was still hours away. I looked at Jason Bushy of Brattleboro, Vermont, and told him I could tell he knew exactly what the festival was all about and asked him if he could tell me.
“America,” he said with a big grin.
And with that word the weight of Charlottesville was off of me. Yes of course, this is America. This is my America.
And by the way Atlas PyroVision Productions of Jaffrey, who puts on the festival show, creates the best fireworks show in the world.