Fourth of July celebrations made a triumphant return Sunday to the city where America began — to thunderous applause from concertgoers liberated after a year spent isolated in their homes by the pandemic.
Philadelphians marked the holiday during the day with cookouts across the city, their thick smoke mingling with the astringent scent of sunscreen. Children played and laughed, and adults joined in, reveling in the freedom to be together in holiday celebration.
Closer to sundown, many flocked to the Mann Center, where Wawa and the city partnered to host the annual Welcome America festival.
Hundreds of families turned out for the free event, some to see performances by recording artists Flo Rida and Bebe Rexha, others to reserve prime seats to watch the fireworks display on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and all eager to spend time outside.
Among the crowd were four generations of the Dandridge family, who drove over from Nicetown to ring in Independence Day.
“It’s the first time we’re all really out, together in a social setting,” Carl Dandridge said as his granddaughter, Maxcene kept a close eye on his great-granddaughter, Millie.
“We got rained on, but we stuck it out,” he said. “There was no way we were leaving.”
In the stands of the Mann, there was much chatter about Cam Anthony, the Philadelphia native who recently won NBC’s singing competition The Voice.
Johnny Moore, of West Philadelphia, was looking forward to Anthony’s performance, in particular, beaming with hometown pride.
“I’m happy to see his success, and just happy to be here,” Moore said. “It’s good to be here, because a lot of us didn’t make it through last year.”
As dusk fell, and Flo Rida took the stage, the crowd burst into cheers, clapping, singing, and dancing along with him.
Abby Elliot from South Philly brought her daughter and sister with her to the concert, playing competitive Uno games in between concert sets.
“This is our first time at the Mann, and it just felt right to come out for this,” Elliot said. “We’re all just looking forward to more crowds, more people, more outdoor activities.”
The pandemic, or rather the relief at a return to normalcy amid soaring vaccination rates, was on the minds of many.
Sophia Thai called the concert, and the promise of a summer beyond it filled with time spent among friends, a “literal breath of fresh air.”
“We’re finally getting outside, finally seeing people,” said Thai, of Marlton. “It’s what we all needed.”
Abby Sloan said it was certainly what she needed. She traded Chicago for Bensalem in 2019, eager to learn more about her new home and brush up on her history of the American Revolution in the city where so many key events occurred.
Instead, she spent most of the next year inside her apartment. She viewed last year’s fireworks from her deck, so her spot this year at the Mann, stretched out amid a picnic spread of cheese and wine overlooking the Philadelphia skyline, was a major improvement.
“I love the CDC and I love [Dr. Anthony] Fauci,” Sloan said. “It’s like the world is alive again.”
The highlight of the event, for many, was the fireworks display that capped the evening’s festivities, exploding in the night sky over the Parkway in a colorful array of sparkling light.
Hundreds of concertgoers were joined in watching by hundreds more revelers who filled the Parkway from Eakins Oval to Logan Square.
Sarah and Zane Gregory drove up to the city from Anne Arundel County, Md. just for that: The city’s display, they said, was included on a list of the best fireworks shows on the East Coast.
“There’s nothing better than that on a day like this,” Zane Gregory said. “It’s the perfect way to wrap everything up.”
When the fireworks finally got underway just after 10 p.m., they did not disappoint, sending dazzling bursts of riotous color high above the delighted crowd. People gasped and clapped and took photos and videos with their cell phones as the city’s long day and night of celebration came to a glittering end.