Philadelphia hosts America’s biggest birthday party

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@brianbingaman on Twitter

Neo-soul singer Leon Bridges, Philadelphia Latin vocal group VIVA MÁS, Tony-winner Leslie Odom Jr. and more than 350 other performers will be in Philadelphia for this year’s Wawa Welcome America! festival, running June 27-July 4.
Here’s the stuff to pay close attention to:
• On June 30, Food Network’s Robert Irvine and Preston & Steve from WMMR will be a part of the 24th annual Wawa Hoagie Day on the Independence Visitors Center lawn at Market and Sixth streets. Get your piece of a five-ton hoagie in honor of the service of military, fire and police.
• The July 4th Celebration of Freedom Ceremony at 10 a.m. July 4 at Independence Hall will be a tribute to “Everyday Heroes,” with patriotic musical performances and speeches, featuring Philadelphia-born “How to Get Away with Murder” actor and “Scandal” producer Tom Verica, Odom, Philly soul architects Kenney Gamble and Leon Huff and the Philly POPS.
• The Independence Day Parade July 4 will feature 4,000 marchers, 10 floats and Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell. It steps off at 11 a.m. from the Independence Visitors Center. It travels west on Chestnut Street to Ninth Street, then north to Market Street, then east on Market Street to Front Street, ending at Front and Chestnut streets.
• Party on the Parkway gets underway earlier — noon July 4. The free daytime family event, with music and food, at Eakins Oval includes the “Kidz Bop” Kids performing contemporary pop hits and a DJ set and beatboxing with “Yo Gabba Gabba” tour star and clown prince of hip-hop Biz Markie.
• The free Wawa Welcome America! July 4th Concert on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway also begins at an earlier time of 5 p.m., with Biz Markie deejaying between sets to keep the crowd going throughout five hours of entertainment (two more hours than before). Besides Bridges — a Grammy nominee and Rolling Stone “New Artist You Need to Know” — Odom (Aaron Burr from the Broadway sensation “Hamilton” has ties to West Philadelphia) and VIVA MÁS, the lineup features Philly-born actor and rapper Yazz the Greatest from Fox’s hit TV series “Empire;” a cappella group Brotherly Love; “Sound of Philadelphia” groups The O’Jays, Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes and The Intruders (all backed by the Urban Guerrilla Orchestra); The Philly POPS with guest vocalists (both from Philly, naturally) Allison Blackwell (Broadway’s “The Lion King”) and opera star Justin Hopkins; and the USO Show Troupe.
• The fireworks have an earlier start on July 4 at 10 p.m. In fact, there will be three nights of free fireworks shows. The first two will occur at 9:30 p.m. July 1 and 2, launching from the Delaware River Waterfront.
• During each of the eight days of Welcome America, Philadelphia museums will take turns offering free admission. The goal is to draw 100,000 visitors. On June 27, it’s the Ben Franklin Museum at 317 Chestnut St. On June 29, it’s the Rodin Museum. On June 30 and July 2, it’s the National Constitution Center. On July 1, it’s the African-American Museum of Philadelphia. On July 3, it’s the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation. On July 4, it’s the National Museum of American Jewish History.
• The festival will be broadcast on NBC-10, Telemundo 62, Cozi TV, TCN (The Comcast Network) and TeleXitos. Events will also be live-streamed on the NBC-10 and Telemundo 62 websites. Festival guides that will help residents and visitors navigate the events throughout the week will live on the NBC-10 and Telemundo 62 mobile apps. For the first time, Telemundo 62 will broadcast the festival live in Spanish. Comcast subscribers will also be able to access Welcome America content on Xfinity On Demand.
In all, the festival has 35 events, with 10 hours of entertainment scheduled between July 3 and 4. See them all in a couple of clicks at www.welcomeamerica.com. Join the conversation by liking www.facebook.com/WawaWelcomeAmerica and following @July4thPhilly on Twitter and Instagram.

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