Fireworks have been a part of Independence Day ever since the beginning, when John Adams decreed that independence be celebrated with “Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
While many of the founding fathers’ recommendations have been swept aside, the prescription of fireworks is renewed every year, in towns across the continent, with Really Big Shews of all colors and flavors. Here are some of our favorites.
Addison, Texas: Watching the fireworks show in this small-to-middling North Dallas suburb – renamed “Kaboom Town” for the day – will convince you that “everything’s bigger in Texas” is no joke. Addison sees its population swell from 19,000 to 500,000 on July 4, as fireworks fans from across the Metroplex turn out to watch a stunning airshow full of stall turns and tail slides followed by 30 minutes of fireworks consuming a staggering 3,500 pounds of pyrotechnics. You’ll want to show up to Addison Circle Park at Zero Dark Thirty to cinch a spot, but if traffic holds you up, no worries. Just duck into one of Addison’s eateries – the place has more restaurants per capita of anywhere in the United States – and catch the simulcast.
Boston: Anyone who spent their formative years changing the channel to PBS knows about this show, which features fireworks over the Charles River to the stirring accompaniment of the Boston Pops Orchestra. The finale, choreographed to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” and featuring live cannon fire, is the quintessential American fireworks experience. Of course, everyone knows that, making the Boston fireworks the hottest ticket in town. Even with an early start your chances are slim of scoring a prime free spot at the DCR Hatch Shell, where the Pops plays. A better bet is to stake out a spot on the Harvard and Longfellow Bridges, or just spread a blanket on the Esplanade, wait ‘til dusk, and play the Pops on your iPad.
Boulder, Colo.: College towns – Chapel Hill, Madison, Austin – generally do a great job with their fireworks shows, and this great college town is no exception. After a satisfying American Fourth that includes a bike rodeo, a fun run, and a beer garden, one of Colorado’s biggest fireworks shows, Ralphie’s Independence Day Blast, lets loose from the university’s stadium. The show is named for the school’s real live buffalo mascot and gets out early enough for spectators to take in some of that quirky Boulder nightlife and that delicious Boulder food.
Myrtle Beach, S.C.: July 4 at Myrtle Beach means three things: beach music (for the uninitiated, start here), great seafood and barbecue, and fireworks. There are other attractions too – hey, it’s Myrtle Beach in the summer! – including a boat parade along Murrells Inlet, a cupcake-eating contest, and flyovers by vintage planes, but when it gets to be dusk everything stops and everyone heads to the beach to watch the fireworks. Then it’s back to the clubs and the music and the magic of the South Carolina shore.
New York City: It’s not hard to recommend the obvious when the obvious is as amazing as this. Start with the steady progression of A-level entertainment: Kelly Clarkson, Flo Rida, Brad Paisley, Ed Sheeran, Meghan Trainor, and Dierks Bentley. Then, after their fireworks, the fireworks. The New York City show clocks at a whopping 25 minutes – long enough to make it the country’s biggest, with more than 40,000 different effects split between ground and air. More than 3 million people jockey for prime viewing spots in Manhattan (the South Street Seaport or along FDR Drive), Brooklyn (Brooklyn Bridge Park or the Brooklyn Heights Promenade), Queens, Long Island City, and anywhere in the vicinity of the Brooklyn Bridge or the launching barges in the East River.
Ontonagon, Mich.: You ever wonder why fireworks look better over water? There are the magical reflections in the water to be sure, but there’s also the amazing contrast between the exploding sky and the peaceful water. If you’re not buying into the contrast theory, here’s what’ll convince you: Go to Ontonagon, high up on the Lake Superior shore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Better yet, situate yourself west of town, on the many beaches that sit between Michigan 64 and the lake. Stare into the impossibly starry skies, untouched by big-city lights, then just watch as the fireworks work their around the shore, from Ontonagon to White Pine to the many little impromptu celebrations along the water. There are definitely bigger fireworks shows. Few are more satisfying.
Pasadena, Calif.: How does Southern California celebrate the Fourth of July? With a band that impersonates the leading lights of the (second) British Invasion, of course. The Grammy-nominated Liverpool Legends’ ” Ultimate Beatles Experience” will headline AmericaFest, but to be fair, the Faux Four’s presence is balanced by motorcycle stunts and an award-winning Elvis impersonator. And if your head isn’t spinning by award-winning Beatles and Elvis impersonators (who knew they had awards for this stuff?) celebrating Independence Day in the heart of Reagan Country, Southern California’s largest fireworks show will send it whirling like a South Central spinner. And to cap it all off: a viewing of Despicable Me 2. But of course.
Washington, D.C.: Boston may offer the quintessential American fireworks experience, but Washington answers with the quintessential American patriotism celebration, with fireworks thrown in. This year’s celebration features live music (that “1812 Overture” thing again), and while the fireworks are just a small part of the celebration – only 17 minutes, and tightly concentrated as opposed to spread across the sky – the experience of watching fireworks explode across the National Mall is unforgettable. Anywhere along the Mall is prime viewing, as are the steps of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials – but you’re going to have to show up early, with a blanket and lots and lots of cold drinks. Otherwise, Potomac Park, south of the Mall, is a more-than-acceptable fallback position that still allows forays into the Mall’s mass of humanity.
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