Party on the Parkway is a big success

Vice President Biden speaks about civil rights during the Celebration of Freedom ceremony.
Vice President Biden speaks about civil rights during the Celebration of Freedom ceremony. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 06, 2014

As the aroma of funnel cakes and firecrackers wafted across the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Friday night, Victoria Whartenby, 14, made a sacrifice for her favorite singer.

The petite girl from Clayton would never catch a glimpse of Ed Sheeran with taller fans towering over her. So she got a better view - from the back of a garbage truck.

"Anything for Ed," she said with a smile, unfazed by the smell, as she scanned over the crowd of concertgoers.

Hundreds of thousands of people throughout the day packed Philadelphia, from the green yard behind Independence Hall to the steps of the Art Museum, to celebrate the city's annual Fourth of July celebration, billed as America's biggest free concert and party, and capped by a spectacular display of fireworks.

Hurricane Arthur, though bringing gray skies and showers in the morning, showed a patriotic side by the afternoon, sliding north and making way for a clear and breezy summer evening.

Unlike last year, when rumored gunshots led to a stampede during the fireworks, or 2012, when the day was marred by three shootings, the festivities - from Vice President Biden's morning peroration on civil rights to the closing jams on the Parkway - seemed to go off smoothly.

As the Wawa Welcome America! festival was in full swing, a Fire Department official said at 9:30 p.m. that the day had moved at a "phenomenal pace," with no major health or safety issues and with about 70 people being treated and released at medical tents.

The police presence was noticeable, with officers clustered on street corners, mounted on horseback, and lined against police tape that cordoned off John F. Kennedy Plaza.

Around 6 p.m., several officers gathered there said the area was blocked as a safety measure, but the neon tape did not stop groups from posing with the LOVE statue and blue skies behind them, the mist from the blasting fountain spraying at their backs.

A few blocks away, outside the Four Seasons Hotel, a crowd with cellphones set on camera mode gathered and grew as passersby heard that singer and rapper Nicki Minaj - one of a star-studded lineup that also included the Roots, Jennifer Hudson, and Ed Sheeran - was inside. Or on her way there. No one was quite sure.

"She's my biggest hero," 22-year-old Jared Hill of Baltimore said of Minaj. "Besides Hillary Clinton. She's my super-official superhero."

Hill came to Philadelphia for the day from Baltimore, where be works for the International Refugee Committee.

"I help on refugee - wait," he said as a cream SUV with tinted windows pulled into the drive. "Oh, my God, is that her?"

It was just a false alarm, one of many as the crowd came to a hush, then deflated, as each vehicle that pulled in proved to be another guest's.

Other fans hoped to catch glimpses of stars on stage.

Gloria Woodley of Sharon Hill and Nicole Egerton of Mount Airy, and her brother Eddie Egerton of Germantown, got to the Parkway by 2 p.m. so they could grab valuable real estate up front. With five hours still to go before the music began, what would they do?

"Eat," said Eddie Egerton, with a grin and a gesture toward a Parkway full of food trucks serving fare from water ice to sweet corn and chicken skewers.

At a nearby restaurant, three friends who drove seven hours from the Boston area for the show were wishing they had showed up a little earlier.

"We came up because it's Fourth of July, we wanted to do something different," said Netta Gaye, 27. Then they learned of the event billed as the largest free concert in the nation: "Any time something says free. . . ."

Unable to get close enough to see Jennifer Hudson perform - "we're a little bit older, so not Nicki Minaj," Gaye said - the group decided to take the night in a different direction.

"Go dancing for sure," Gaye said. "That can compensate for us not seeing the performers."

Earlier in the day, at Independence Hall, Mayor Nutter and Biden kicked off the festivities in front of Independence Hall. As a light, steady rain fell on the stage, Biden reminded the crowd that this year marks not only America's 238th birthday but the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which gave "genuine life to the promise that was made two centuries before in this city" that all men are created equal.

"The civil rights issue of our day: Making it clear you should be allowed to marry whomever you love. Period," he said before joining the parade as it headed west on Chestnut Street.

As he passed, Biden lingered to speak with some of the younger people, such as a teenage girl he told to wait until she was 30 before she started dating, and a toddler in pigtails and a Minnie Mouse shirt.

Sixteen other children from countries around the world became U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony at the Betsy Ross House.

Kate and Edward Carrington, both 14 and originally from the United Kingdom, have been living in the United States for more than 13 years. The siblings, who do not share their parents' British accents, said they were very happy to become citizens of the country they live in, rather than the one they visit to see relatives about once a year.

"It's not much of a change now, but it'll make a big difference later," Edward Carrington said.

"Now we can vote when we're older," Kate Carington added.

Philip Browndeis, section chief of Philadelphia District 5 Citizenship and Immigration Services, urged the youngsters, former citizens of Cambodia, Ukraine, Ireland, and Ethiopia, among others, to treat the Fourth of July as their "second birthday."

"And let me be the first to congratulate you," Browndeis said as they finished their pledge. "You are now American citizens - bam!"


Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Casey Fabris, Jonathan Lai, Clark Mindock, and Lydia O'Neal.

tnadolny@phillynews.com

610-313-8205

@TriciaNadolny

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