Philly Has Had Some Truly Terrible 4th of July Concerts

Fortunately, this year's performance looks like a winner.

On the 4th of July, classic soul enthusiast Leon Bridges will be in Philadelphia to headline the big concert on the Ben Franklin Parkway. Bridges has rightly been called “music’s most promising new star” — not too shabby for someone who only started writing tunes about five years ago — and it’s a booking that we can definitely support. But historically, Philadelphia has had its share of 4th of July duds, outrages, and financial scandals. Here, a compendium of Philadelphia 4th of July concerts.

July 4, 1994
The 218th birthday of American independence was celebrated with 54-year-old Smokey Robinson. Somehow, the Daily NewsJonathan Takiff raved, “We’d be hard pressed to find a better star for the… July 4 bash on the Parkway…” Really? Meanwhile, 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 for Philadelphia’s 4th of July concert in 1995.

The 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 really is 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. We couldn’t find any video, but here is audio of the entire performance. Just listen to those horns!

July 4, 1998
Boyz II Men, seven years after Cooleyhighharmony. As usual, the hometown heroes delivered.

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.” Here’s what that sounded like.

The Philadelphia 4th of July concert took place 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?) Their July 4th set included “September,” “Boogie Wonderland,” and Beatles cover “Got to Get You Into My Life.”

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.

The event included pre-embarrassment 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 of “Who Let the Dogs Out” fame?! Below, the segment where an extremely sweaty McKnight performs “Back at One.” It’s hard not to sing along.

July 4, 2003
Neo-soul crooner Musiq was joined by 1970s wah-wah-wah-wah-wah enthusiast Peter Frampton.

The 4th of July concert in Philadelphia was uneventful. But on the same day, the National Constitution Center opened its doors for the first time, and that event was not without incident: Mayor John Street was taken to the hospital after stage equipment fell onto him while U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was speaking.

July 4, 2004
We’re guessing that Mayor Street was a huge fan of headliners The Isley Brothers. Kind of upstaged by Madonna, who brought her Re-Invention Tour to what was then The Wachovia Center. The same week, Philly hosted the Guinness World Record attempt for world’s largest salsa-dancing competition. Hey, you gotta have goals.

July 4, 2005
This Philadelphia 4th of July concert 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 off 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 would remain the centerpiece of Philadelphia’s 4th of July concerts for the next several years. 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 wowed. As did guests Earth, Wind & Fire and Estelle. And DJ Jazzy Jeff did his thing:

July 4, 2012
This was a truly great show, a Philadelphia 4th of July concert for the record books. The night featured 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 skipped John Mayer and Demi Lovato, but The Roots and Jill Scott tore it up. Kevin Hart was the host.

July 4, 2014

This is where things started to fall apart. Somehow, the city thought that Nicki Minaj would be appropriate for what’s supposed to be a family event. She wasn’t, and it wasn’t, and a scandal was born.

(In case you can’t make out what she’s saying: All these bitches is my sons / And I’ma go and get some bibs for ’em / A couple formulas, little pretty lids on ’em /If I had a dick, I would pull it out and piss on ’em. Keepin’ it classy.)

When faced with criticism over Minaj’s expletive-filled performance, Mayor Nutter suggested that anyone with small children could have taken a bathroom break during those songs. Nice.

July 4, 2015
Somewhere around 175,000 turned out for lewd singer Miguel, who, fortunately, did not deliver a lewd performance. The Roots gave what may wind up being their last 4th of July concert in Philly. The band promised a special guest who would join them for a song but the best they could conjure up was CeeLo Green.

More entertaining was on-his-way-out Mayor Nutter, who did his perpetual karaoke song “Rapper’s Delight” and followed it up with a proverbial mic drop:

Portions of this story were originally published in the July 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.