Lesley Dugan of Mansfield, Ohio, summed up her family's Independence Day vacations each year in just two words: "An adventure."
Those adventures have taken Dugan, her husband, and their 38-year-old daughter, Ashley, across the country for the holiday — New York City and elsewhere. But when deciding this year's Independence Day destination, one factor tipped the scale toward the City of Brotherly Love: Pitbull.
Sure, for Ashley Dugan, a sixth-grade teacher in Columbus, Ohio, Philadelphia's rich history as America's birthplace certainly was a decider. For her dad, Al, 67, catching a Phillies game was, too. But for 60-year-old Lesley, the focus Wednesday night was on the Miami rapper known as Mr. 305.
"He's got the best dance music and the best dance moves," Lesley Dugan said as she waited eagerly for Pitbull's 8 p.m. appearance on stage. "And he's very cute."
Like thousands of others who flooded the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Wednesday afternoon and evening, the Dugans came to Philadelphia to dance, sing along, and celebrate the United States' 242nd birthday in the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed. And while temperatures reached above 90 degrees by afternoon, that did not stop attendees from turning out in droves.
The Wawa Welcome America Concert and Fireworks, headlined by Pitbull with appearances by the Philly Pops Big Band and singer Heather Headley, marked the finale of the city's seven-day-long celebration — one that from start to finish was Philly through and through. Thousands of Philadelphians last week filled the lawns of the National Constitution Center and Independence Mall to chow down on free Wawa hoagies at the start of festivities. On Sunday, others gathered on the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps for a free screening of Rocky.
But it wasn't until Wednesday that Philadelphia really showed its true July Fourth swagger. The morning kicked off with a time-honored reading of the Declaration of Independence, followed by the city's annual parade starting at Fifth and Chestnut Streets. Musical groups, colorful floats and members of the Mattatuck Drum Band, the oldest fife and drum band in the United States, took part, as throngs of people lined the sidewalks to watch, shout, and cheer.
Yet as the revelry spilled out across the city, dozens of people nearby were spending the day in a sharply different way.
At Eighth and Cherry Streets — just blocks from where the parade commenced — protesters continued to camp outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, demanding the abolition of the federal agency as well as an end to cooperation between the City of Philadelphia and ICE. The protesters, who have numbered in the hundreds at times, have called on Gov. Wolf to shut down an immigration detention facility in Berks County as well.
The protesters began occupying the site Monday, sleeping on the sidewalk at night and taking refuge from the heat under umbrellas and tarps during the day. On Wednesday, however — while still making their demands known — the group took time to clap and cheer as musical groups performed. Donations of water, food, and supplies were plentiful, according to one protester. Chants of "Shut down ICE!" and "¡Si se puede!" — Spanish for "Yes, We Can!" — filled the air.
"We think this is the most American thing you can be doing today," organizer Jared Dobkin, 23, said of the protest. "We're fighting for the people, our fellow Americans, whether they have a piece of paper or not."
Just one day before, Mayor Kenney and his administration faced criticism for allowing police to arrest 29 of the protesters. Wednesday, however, brought no similar dust-up. And at a naturalization ceremony Wednesday morning, in which 13 children from seven countries became naturalized citizens, Kenney reinforced his view that immigrants and citizens alike are accepted here.
"I want you to know that you are all welcome here, and you have already enriched our city and our country," Kenney told the crowd of children and family members. The ceremony was hosted by the Daughters of the American Revolution and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The children were from Egypt, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, China and Vietnam, and were naturalized by their parents becoming citizens.
"It's really special that you all became citizens on Independence Day," Kenney continued.
By 6 p.m., with Philly DJ Diamond Kuts on the stage, the "Party on the Parkway!" event began to rev up as thousands staked out seats to watch Pitbull perform. Vendors hawked cheesesteaks, water ice, and whistles, as street performers, such as the Philly Surfers, breakdanced, flipped, and joked. Nearby, William Richards, 52, of Drexel Hill, and Anne Montgomery, 50, of Lancaster, sported historical reenactment garb, and passed out miniature American flags. As for how they got to the Parkway? SEPTA, Richards said. "Even colonials will take the El."
For the most part, the event was peaceful, with a "controlled, well-behaved crowd," said Deputy Fire Commissioner Gary Loesch. Yet there could have been a reason behind that, he guessed: It was the smallest crowd he said he's seen in the last six years. A possible reason, Loesch said, was the heat, which led attendees throughout the day to first-aid tents to cool down. As of 7:30 p.m., there were no drug- or alcohol-related medical issues, he said.
Shortly after 8 p.m., the crowd broke out in screams. Pitbull appeared as purple and blue smoke billowed around him. Dressed in black, with dancers beside him, he sang hits including "Feel This Moment" and "Don't Stop the Party," as concertgoers swayed and danced. Beach balls flew through the crowd.
"Whether you speak Spanish, English, Chinese, Portuguese, I don't know," Pitbull said as he paused between songs. "It doesn't matter because we all speak music here tonight."
Then, only minutes after he finished his set, fireworks shot up in the sky above the Art Museum, crackling as they turned thousands of heads at the same time. Mouths opened and smiles formed, as Philadelphia was colored red, white, and blue.