The History of July 4th Parkway Concerts In Philadelphia

20 years of great (and not so great) music.

Back in May, when we were writing about the announcement of this year’s 4th of July concert on the Parkway, we went looking for a list of all of the July 4th concerts in Philadelphia from the last 20 years. But we couldn’t find one. So, we dug deep into the archives to make our own list. Here, in the interest of of historical preservation, the last 20 years of July 4th concerts in Philadelphia.

July 4, 1994

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.

July 4, 1995

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 truly terrible performance has been preserved for all the world to see on YouTube. Watch, if you dare. It is really that bad.

July 4, 1996

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:

July 4, 1997

You haven’t seen “America the Beautiful” performed live unless you saw Ray Charles do it here.

July 4, 1998

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.

July 4, 1999

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?!?!

July 4, 2000

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?)

July 4, 2001

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. The live recording of this isn’t so good, but here’s a pre-recorded version they did:

July 4, 2002

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?” Below, the segment where an extremely sweaty McKnight performs “Back at One.”

July 4, 2003

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.

July 4, 2004

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.

July 4, 2005

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.” Here’s “Rocket Man.”

July 4, 2006

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.

July 4, 2007

We love Hall & Oates. But… their July 4th performance was totally off, filled with technical problems and sour notes. 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 of anyway.

July 4, 2008

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.

July 4, 2009

The show was originally announced as just Sheryl Crow, to absolutely not thunderous applause. The Roots were soon added to the bill, and they’ve been there ever since. Crow’s VIP swag bag included lemon body butter, a Starr gift card and a free dinner at Chima (woo hoo!).

July 4, 2010

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.

July 4, 2011

The Roots delivered. As did guests Earth, Wind & Fire and Estelle. And DJ Jazzy Jeff did his thing:

July 4, 2012

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.”

July 4, 2013

We could have done without John Mayer and Demi Lovato, but The Roots and Jill Scott tore it up. Kevin Hart was the host.

A version of this story was originally published in the July 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.