4th of July Concerts in Philly: The Good, the Bad and the Completely Inexplicable
From Patti LaBelle (yay!) to Nicki Minaj (ugh) to... "Who Let the Dogs Out"?!?!?!?
This year, the City of Philadelphia has chosen Cuban-American rapper Pitbull as the featured entertainment in the birthplace of America to celebrate said birth. By our count, this is the 26th installment of the Welcome America 4th of July concerts in Philadelphia, and we’ve had some real doozies over the years. Here, a look back at the memorable, questionable, and completely indefensible performances since 1993.
For its inaugural year, Welcome America selected the Pointer Sisters to play the 4th of July concert in Philadelphia. This was nearly a decade after their peak success following the release of such best-selling singles as “So Excited,” “The Neutron Dance,” and “Jump (For My Love).” Earlier in the day, President Bill Clinton showed up to present the Liberty Medal to South African president F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.
The 218th birthday of American independence was celebrated with 54-year-old Smokey Robinson, while Czech President Vaclav Havel was in town to accept the Liberty Medal. Captain Noah (it was his last year on TV) was grand marshal of the Liberty Lighted Boat Parade.
Even though The Beach Boys owed Philadelphia $267,000 due to a debacle surrounding a 1985 “charity” concert they did here, we still paid them to show up again in 1995. The intrepid Daily News launched an investigation, and Meryl Levitz, then one of the people in charge of our July 4th celebrations, told the paper she couldn’t remember who chose the Beach Boys. But we’re pretty sure that then-Mayor Ed Rendell had something to do with this unfortunate choice.
The one, the only, the queen of Philadelphia’s soul, Miss Patti LaBelle. Naturally, she closed with “Over the Rainbow,” wearing a sequined red dress. Check it out:
You haven’t seen “America the Beautiful” performed live unless you saw Ray Charles do it here.
Boyz II Men, seven years after Cooleyhighharmony, at the beginning of their slow slide down the hill of fame and fortune. Consummate bluesman Keb Mo was the featured guest.
The greatest-hits set from Dionne Warwick included “Walk On By,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” and her 1985 song “That’s What Friends Are For.” This was one year after the Psychic Friends Network, which Warwick had controversially been shilling, went bankrupt. The week’s festivities also included a black-tie tribute to… Gregory Peck?!?!
The guys from Earth, Wind and Fire put on a good show, and they came back less than a month later to entertain GOP leaders at a soiree on the waterfront during the Republican National Convention we hosted. (Remember that?)
Country music star Garth Brooks played some tunes, but the real celebrity power that day came from the Hollywood A-listers on hand for a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence on the 225th anniversary of its adoption by the Continental Congress. It included Mel Gibson, Morgan Freeman, Kathy Bates, Michael Douglas, Whoopi Goldberg, and Kevin Spacey, among others. (Obviously, some of the names on that list probably wouldn’t make for such good choices in 2018.)
We could live with Brian McKnight, but special guests The Baha Men? Oh, what, you don’t remember The Baha Men? They gave us the treacherous earworm “Who Let the Dogs Out?”
Neo-soul crooner Musiq was joined by 1970s wah-wah-wah-wah-wah enthusiast Peter Frampton. On the same day, the National Constitution Center opened its doors for the first time.
We’re guessing that then-Mayor John Street was a huge fan of headliners The Isley Brothers. The same night, Madonna brought her Re-Invention Tour to what was then The Wachovia Center. 30,575 people showed up for that.
This was also known as the Philadelphia Freedom Concert, and it starred Elton John and Patti LaBelle. If you wanted a seat near the front, you had to fork over $500 for HIV/AIDS research, and there was a $1,000/person ball as well.
The show itself was fun but didn’t exactly meet its fundraising goal of at least $1,000,000 for local charities and organizations. In fact, it was a big flop. Organizer (and Philadelphia Gay News publisher) Mark Segal placed the blame on the Live 8 concert, which occurred in Philadelphia just days before. “[Live 8] took the publicity edge away,” Segal told the Inquirer. “We couldn’t get the people after that. Everything dried up. It’s just an unlucky break.”
Sir Elton opened the family-friendly show with “The Bitch Is Back.”
Lionel Richie showed up in the middle of his Coming Home Tour. Special guest: Fantasia, back when a few people were still watching American Idol. She won in 2004.
We love Hall & Oates. But… their July 4th performance was totally off, filled with technical problems and sour notes. (The video evidence appears below.) On top of that, there was a ton of rain. At 10:45 p.m., the city sent everyone home due to the rain and potential for lightning. Then, about forty minutes later, the fireworks were set off anyway.
We brought in John Legend, back when we still considered the UPenn grad an honorary Philadelphian. But the real highlight had to have been the sculpture of our Founding Fathers made out of Cheez-Its.
The show was originally announced as just Sheryl Crow, to absolutely not thunderous applause. The Roots were soon added to the bill, making folks a lot happier. Crow’s VIP swag bag included lemon body butter, a Starr gift card and a free dinner at Chima (woo hoo!).
For some reason, The Roots were paired with the Goo Goo Dolls. The Philadelphia Weekly‘s Brian McManus christened the Goo Goo Dolls portion his “Week’s Worst” music pick.
The Roots delivered. As did guests Earth, Wind & Fire and Estelle.
This was a truly great show featuring The Roots (they played a killer cover of “Paul Revere” as a tribute to the just-passed MCA from the Beastie Boys), Queen Latifah, and Lauryn Hill, who showed up unannounced for a hot and sweaty set. But the big news was the shooting that occurred at 15th and JFK right after the show. Mayor Nutter called the 16-year-old shooter a “little asshole.”
Here’s “Paul Revere” from that show:
We could have done without John Mayer and Demi Lovato, but The Roots and Jill Scott tore it up. Kevin Hart was the host.
Also known as The Nicki Minaj mess. She let loose with her filthy mouth, guest Ed Sheeran couldn’t help but curse as well, and host Marlon Wayans wasn’t helping much. Happy %!@#$ 4th of July, America!
As we put it back then, “With Miguel, Philadelphia has officially ruined the 4th of July.” Banal country singer Jennifer Nettles was also on the bill.
No major problems with the performers — songwriter Leon Bridges, Hamilton star and Philly native Leslie Odom, and The O’Jays — but a Philly Pops show got scrapped at the last minute and people were upset over the fireworks timing and television coverage.
Mary J. Blige turned out to be a big crowdpleaser.