Head of Philly’s 4th of July Explains What the Hell Happened Last Night

Welcome America CEO Jeff Guaracino responds to criticism of the event.

Welcome America CEO Jeff Guaracino in the rain at Philly's 4th of July concert and fireworks. (Photo by HughE Dillon)

Welcome America CEO Jeff Guaracino in the rain at Philly’s 4th of July concert and fireworks. | Photo by HughE Dillon

Another Fourth of July in Philadelphia means one thing: Another laundry list of complaints about the party on the Parkway. While the past couple of years were marred by inappropriate language and behavior and bad talent choices, this year’s festivities have been criticized because of weird television coverage on NBC10, lackluster fireworks that went off earlier than normal, and a concert that did not include the Roots. Here, Welcome America CEO Jeff Guaracino — a/k/a the man in charge of all of our 4th of July festivities — responds.

How do you think you guys did last night?

Well, for the eight-day festival, it was a home run. And in terms of repositioning and engaging people from millennials to boomers, overall, it was great. In terms of one concert, one five-hour event, we can’t satisfy everyone’s musical tastes. But it all helps small businesses. The point is to get people to come to Philly.

We were there to show people a good time, get people home safe, and position this for the future as a family-friendly, patriotic event with something for everyone.

There was a lot of confusion over the television coverage. You moved it from Channel 6 to NBC10, and the broadcast was earlier than normal. If someone tuned in at 8 p.m., all they saw was a concert in New York. Some people think that there was no TV coverage.

This deal was inked with Comcast-NBC, and they already had an 8 p.m. show from New York scheduled, one that they’ve been doing for years. So we started early.

So the whole concert was on TV — it was just on earlier?

Yes, everything that was promised to be on was on, from Leslie Odom to Leon Bridges to the TSOP tribute. And it all started with the national anthem.

And keep in mind that it was not only on TV but it was on in two languages, because don’t forget that Telemundo carried it as well. And it was streamed live, too.

The Philly Pops were scheduled to play at 8 p.m., which is when the broadcast switched to New York’s concert. Based on what you’re saying, the Pops were never supposed to be on the broadcast?

Right. The Pops can’t be broadcast because their contract makes it cost-prohibitive. It wouldn’t be financially feasible to do it.

But in the end, the Pops concert never even happened, is that right?

They cancelled due to safety. The rain was coming down sideways. I’m sure they wanted to do it. You don’t pull all those musicians together and then just not do it. There were all the expensive violins. And the harp. The harp needed its own car.

I’ve seen more than a few complaints about the fireworks, too: They went off too early. They were no good. They should have been cancelled, considering the weather.

When it comes to fireworks, you are talking about explosives, and it is not safe to unload the fireworks once they are loaded.

Last year, the Inquirer reported that the fireworks went off at 11:30 p.m. Do you really want fireworks that late on a work night? So we did them at 10. It was better timed with SEPTA for getting home, and then we also saved the city $40,000 in city services by finishing up and getting everybody home early.

We had three big fireworks shows. Two at Penn’s Landing and then this one. Mother Nature determines when it rains and when there are clouds.

What have you learned to do differently for next year?

Every year is different. Next year, it’s on a Tuesday, so we’ll look at it as a midweek event. You’ll have big shifts in when people will travel. The next day is still a work day. But it’s a big opportunity, because it’s the 25th anniversary of Welcome America.

Any chance you’ll bring the Roots back for that?

We’ve made some big shifts, but we still have a great relationship with the Roots. I think this year we were both family-appropriate and hip. But weather is the ultimate determination of everything, whether it’s indoors or outdoors.

All I can say for sure is that July 4th will happen next year. It’s happened every year since 1776.

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.