Annual Fourth of July festivities at Lions Wayside Park at noon today

Free public event features patriotic music, speeches

Pleasanton's annual Fourth of July concert and picnic at Lions Wayside Park on First Street will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. today.

Festivities will include speeches, hot dogs and drinks for $2 sold by the Lions Club, plus red, white and blue fans and patriotic temporary tattoos for kids. Audience members bring their own chairs and blankets, and dress in red, white and blue.

The spirit of the day will ring out musically as maestro Bob Williams raises his baton to lead the Pleasanton Community Concert Band atop the bandstand.

"It falls into a pattern -- you do all the patriotic stuff you can," Williams said about the annual band performance. "This year we are also going to do 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic.'"

Ward Belding, as Uncle Sam, will lead a singalong of the national anthem.

Mayor Jerry Thorne will welcome everyone to the event, and the master of ceremonies will be Ken McDonald, assisted by Les Duman. This will be the final year of a four-year focus on the sesquicentennial of the Civil War with an address on "What We Learned from the War Between the States," presented by Rob Williams, a 1989 graduate of Foothill High, now a DJ and orator -- and the son of Bob Williams.

"We also discovered this is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II so we will play a little bit to celebrate that," band director Bob Williams said. "And it is the sesquicentennial of the founding of the Salvation Army, so we will play music they would play on the Fourth of July if they could."

The Salvation Army band takes off the months of July and August, he explained.

"They are famous for playing traditional Christian hymns, so we will play five or six traditional Christian-based hymns," Bob Williams said.

The Pleasanton Community Concert Band will also perform a tribute to those who have served in the military and their families, playing the anthems of each branch of the service. American Legion Post 238 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6298 will provide the color guard.

The Fourth of July program also includes honoring the recipients of this year's Ed Kinney Community Patriot Award, Dolores Bengtson and John Sensiba. Ed Kinney was the first master of ceremonies for the event, which was started in 1999 by W. Ron Sutton and dubbed "Celebrating Freedom and its Evolution Since the Revolution."

Sutton calls it a fun way to "make sure that we remember Fourth of July for more than fireworks and barbecues."

"We celebrate our shared heritage -- and still have time for other activities in the evening, including fireworks at both the Fairgrounds and downtown Livermore," Sutton added.

One fun tradition for returning audience members is perusing the printed program for photos of themselves taken the previous year by photographer and graphic designer Lisa Lorentz.

The event continues to be a huge volunteer effort, with more than 100 folks contributing their talents. Boy Scout Troop 908 will assist with setup.

Event sponsor is Heritage Bank of Commerce, music sponsor is Accusplit and food sponsor is Lions Club, with assistance from Raley's Market. Also, children get wooden tokens for soft ice cream cones at Meadowlark Dairy, adjacent to the park.

Although this is the 17th year for the all-volunteer event, the Pleasanton Community Concert Band did not play until the third year, 2001. At first the band was relegated to a tent at the side of the bandstand since it was used for some other activity, but inside the tent proved to be sweltering, Bob Williams recalled.

"In 2002, we wanted to be on the bandstand," he said.

Indeed Pleasanton's band was formed in the 1970s only because the bandstand was built as part of Pleasanton's 1976 bicentennial festivities.

"In 1975, the Bicentennial Celebration Committee decided we should have a band," remembered Bob Williams, who played French horn in the original band, became its director in 1978-82, took a break until 1989, and has been conducting ever since.

At 82, Bob Williams still plays with a banjo band and the Livermore symphony.

"But I'm cutting back because the Pleasanton band takes so much of my time," he explained.

And he has no plans to retire.

"I will conduct until I drop," he said.

For more information about the Pleasanton Community Concert Band, including its future performances, go to the group's website.

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