The nation’s birthday took center stage Thursday at the Longview Fairgrounds and adjoining Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center with entertainment, carnival rides, a petting zoo, food vendors, exhibits and other activities culminating in a fireworks display at night.

While children took in carnival rides, the petting zoo and a soap-bubble machine, the spirit of freedom that the holiday celebrates was on the minds of adults who attended the Fireworks and Freedom Celebration.

“We are free to gather like this,” Sherry Watson of Longview said. “We are just going to watch the fireworks with friends. We are going to eat a good, plant-based burger from Divine Catering.”

Watson and her daughter, Heather Watson, also of Longview, attended the talent show to watch her granddaughter, Jenayah Eve Watson, vie for a $500 cash prize.

Jenayah, 13, was one of five finalists, with the prize going to Savannah Harrold, a 20-year-old Longview resident who performed “Creep” by Radiohead. The other finalists were rapper Ashton “Focus” Grigsby of Longview, soloists Amanda Spangler of Tyler and Ledbetter, a four-man hard-rock band.

“Music is just kind of a hobby,” Harrold said. The aspiring social worker who attends Kilgore College and has performed with the college’s Chorale said she plans to use the prize money to pay for moving into her own apartment.

The finalists performed songs for an audience exceeding 50 people, and 3-year-old Teagan Brown of Longview entertained the crowd by dancing on a folded chair and later on the stage.

“He just loves music,” his mother, Tiffany Brown, said. “He is in his own world when music comes on.”

More free music was scheduled later in the day with local favorites Dagnabbit to play at 6:30 to be followed by country rocker Uncle Kracker.

Over in a grassy area next to the Exhibit Building, Daniel Granados of Tyler watched his niece, Lopita Torres, and other children get covered with soap bubbles produced by a machine. One brother, two sisters and a brother-in-law accompanied him.

Granados said he took in a ride called The Sizzler, adding he was “a little bit scared.” He said he planned to try his hand at tossing darts at balloons for prizes in the games area.

The Fourth of July, he said, means celebrating freedom that soldiers made possible and spending time with family.

Eric Taylor of Tyler, who entered the Exhibit Building with his wife, Leah, and son, Trenton, said the holiday means freedom and independence. Inside the building was space occupied by veterans groups, political organizations, other groups and vendors selling products such as knives, clothes and jewelry.

“I get to come out here and do — legally — what I want,” Taylor said.

He said he wanted to relax with family and to later take in the fireworks display.