date published: June 20, 2005

The Hub shows its patriotic pizzazz with the annual Boston Harborfest and Fourth of July on the Esplanade celebrations
by Katrina Scanlan
  Though you won’t bob for apples, wear pointed hats or tote a goody-bag at this birthday party, you can still eat cake, rock out and chow down. Bostonians know how to host a shindig and when they celebrate the birth of a nation, they tend to go all out.

The 24th annual Boston Harborfest, which takes place June 29–July 4, is one of the largest Fourth of July celebrations in the nation. This six-day festival strives to honor the past, celebrate the present and educate future generations with more than 200 events, including historical reenactments, tours, harbor cruises and concerts.

At the top of Boston’s list of Independence Day traditions is the annual free Boston Pops concert at the Hatch Memorial Shell on the Esplanade. In 1974, Arthur Fiedler, the famed Boston Pops conductor, decided to add some oomph to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with howitzer cannons, fireworks and church bells. Fiedler’s goal was for “all hell [to] break loose,” and it has ever since. Now, thousands of people from all over the country annually congregate along the banks of the Charles River at this beloved extravaganza, which culminates with a 23-minute union of musical majesty and more than 17,500 pounds of pyrotechnics which reach as far as 1,500 feet high and can be seen 15 miles away.

And speaking of fireworks, visitors to the Esplanade should be prepared for some flying picnic baskets, as many Fourth fanatics line up at dawn and risk life and limb to grab some prime lawn space in front of the concert stage.

With all the patriotic hoopla going on, it’s easy to get discombobulated, so here’s a handy guide to help you celebrate the Fourth in true patriotic style.


Wednesday, June 29
The Boston Harborfest Opening Ceremony begins at noon at Faneuil Hall. Grab a slice of the 500-pound birthday cake commemorating Boston’s 375th birthday (refer to story, page 22) while enjoying the musical stylings of Four Guys in Tuxes. The party continues from 12:30–2 p.m. with Music at the Marketplace.

Thursday, June 30
Visit the City Hall Plaza from 10 a.m.–3 p.m. for the 11th annual Children’s Day. Be a kid again yourself, or bring a kid and join in on the fun festivities with jugglers, face painters and Wayne Potash and the Music Fun Band. This self-proclaimed “rollicking” group performs folk, bluegrass, pop and blues, ensuring a romping good time for kids and kids-at-heart.

Friday, July 1
Jump-start the weekend at noon with The Flounders in concert at City Hall Plaza. Enjoy the sounds of the summer as they perform songs from Jimmy Buffett, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Bob Marley and more until 3 p.m. The music at City Hall Plaza continues with Chrissy Cerretani in concert from 4:30–7 p.m. This local blues singer’s vocal vivacity and pulsating presence should definitely heat things up as the sun goes down.

Saturday, July 2
Start the morning off with a bang—of drums, that is. Hear the roving fife and drums of the Middlesex County Volunteers along the Freedom Trail from 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Then come rock out at noon with Reckless Daughter at the Plaza. This six-piece rock, folk, funk and blues band is sure to tap into all of your musical taste buds. Return to the Plaza at 6 p.m., where popular world music/party band Entrain entrances audiences at the Party on the Plaza. From 7–8 p.m., hear “Drums in the Night” as the Middlesex County Volunteers Fife & Drums perform music from the American Revolution to the present at the courtyard of Old City Hall. Or end your evening at the Sunset Parade, an age-old military ceremony conducted by the U.S. Navy at Pier One, Charlestown Navy Yard, adjacent to the U.S.S. Constitution.

Sunday, July 3
Craving a creamy, clammy concoction? Attend Boston’s annual Chowderfest at City Hall Plaza from 11 a.m.–5 p.m., where more than a thousand gallons of New England’s favorite soup are ladled out to well over 10,000 chowda buffs who determine “Boston’s Best Chowder.” Then, if you can lug that stomach full of chowder to the Esplanade, celebrate the Fourth early at 8:30 p.m., as the Boston Pops give a sneak preview of their Independence Day concert—minus, however, the 1812 Overture, cannons and fireworks. Some tricks, after all, have to be saved for the big show.

Monday, July 4
Kick off the Fourth by watching the U.S.S. Constitution make her annual cruise around the harbor and listen for her 21-cannon salute to the nation near Castle Island at noon. See Boston by sea aboard one of the many local cruise lines from 9:30 a.m.–2 p.m. For those of you looking for a celebration on solid ground, head over to the balcony of the Old State House at 10 a.m. to hear a reading of the Declaration of Independence where it was first read in Boston in 1776. Catch the tales of the men and women of “Old Ironsides” in a live theater performance every hour from 11 a.m.–4 p.m. at the U.S.S. Constitution Museum, or mosey down to City Hall Plaza at 1 p.m. for the conclusion of the concert series with sultry soul quartet Jada. Of course, if you’re a diehard Fourth Fanatic, you’ll be sacrificing all of these celebrations for your plump patch of primo property at the Hatch Shell. The Oval opens at approximately 9 a.m., so bring a blanket and a bag lunch if you want to snag a spot close to the stage for the annual “Pops Goes the Fourth” concert by the Boston Pops Orchestra at 8:30 p.m., which culminates in a brilliant, fiery display of pyrotechnics and bombast. It’s the way true Bostonians have said “Happy Birthday” to their country for more than a quarter-century.

back to homepage


Hatch Memorial Shell on the
Charles River Esplanade

July 3
8:30 p.m.—
Pops Goes the 4th! Preview concert.

July 4
approx. 9 a.m.—
The Oval in front of the Hatch Shell opens (arrive early to get those prime spots!).

8:30 p.m.—Boston Pops Fourth of July concert. The Boston Pops and conductor Keith Lockhart bring you patriotic favorites and light classics by your favorite composers.

approx. 10:30 p.m.—Fireworks at conclusion of the Pops concert.

For more information:

  • Opening Ceremonies
    June 29
    at noon Faneuil Hall
  • 11th Annual Children’s Day
    June 30
    from 10 a.m.–3 p.m. City Hall Plaza
  • TGIF Concert with Chrissy Cerretani
    July 1 from 4:30–7:30 p.m. City Hall Plaza
  • Noontime Concert with Reckless Daughter
    July 2
    from noon–3 p.m. City Hall Plaza
  • 2005 Party on the Plaza with Entrain
    July 2
    from 6–10 p.m. City Hall Plaza
  • 24th Annual Chowderfest
    July 3
    from 11 a.m.–5 p.m. City Hall Plaza
  • Concert with Jada
    July 4
    from 1–4 p.m. City Hall Plaza For more information: