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Boston Weather: 39.0°F | Fair

Thousands Gather on Esplanade

To Commemorate July Fourth

By Amy Thayer

At about 2:30 Sunday afternoon I arrived on the Esplanade. Rollerbladers were taking advantage of a closed Storrow Drive to show off. Immediately behind them, the Budweiser Clydesdales, accompanied by a marching band composed of some of the best high school musicians in the area, paraded past. Hundreds of people were strolling down the river. Virtually every spot of grass on the riverbank was occupied. The best positions for viewing the much anticipated “pyromusical” and hearing the concert had been taken since the early morning. Members of Alpha Phi Omega arrived at 7:30 am to stake off their area. Although the Esplanade didn’t officially open until 6 a.m., some enthusiasts showed up as early as 2 a.m. to claim their spots.

Dozens of boats have been parked along the Charles for the entire weekend. MIT sailboats ducked in and out of the tightly packed yachts. A steady stream of kayaks, canoes, dingies, swimmers, rafts -- some of which are evidently homemade -- were floating through the river inlets.

The oppressive heat -- the heat index at the hottest part of the day was over 100 degrees -- had people doing what they could to keep cool. Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart changed shirts six times during the orchestra’s two-hour performance. One family sat in an inflatable pool. Several water fights broke out amongst the boaters. Others squirted bottled water or water guns on themselves, Municipal District Commission trucks drove down Storrow Drive showering everyone in their path.

Several elevated speakers played tunes ranging from Disney to classical to patriotic tunes. Flying advertisements and news helicopters circled the sky. As early as 3 p.m., there was no way to get closer than 300 yards to the Hatch Shell without hurdling people.

Police attributed the low incidence of heat-induced illness to the fact that many spectators arrived after the hottest part of the day was over. And indeed, from 5 o’clock on, there was a constant flow of people from Boston and Cambridge filling both the Harvard and Longfellow bridges and Memorial Drive.

As the sun went down and the beverage of choice changed from slushies to alcohol, the crowd became a little rough around the edges. A couple of boys decided to produce their own show, setting off fire works on the crowded Harvard Bridge. One spectator complained, “People didn’t even stop for the Star Spangled Banner - they just kept on walking. It was very rude.”

In contrast to the mood of those on the bridge, the movie screens broadcasted images of people doing the cancan and singing along to Yankee Doodle. One woman was even dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

As veteran conductor Seiji Ozawa began Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, the crowd on the bridge quieted in expectation. Boaters responded to the first fireworks with flares. Then, as the pyrotechnic display began in earnest, hundreds of camera flashes went off in the five- mile radius surrounding the barge.

“The dazzling fireworks display you will witness tonight - the ‘pyromusical’ will last 30 exhilarating minutes,” reads one line in the Commemorative Program, compliments of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. And they were exhilarating. The award-winning Pyrotechnology, which has produced the Independence Day displays 16 years running, put on a spectacular show perfectly choreographed to the music. As one MIT student described, “The [Harvard] bridge was the best place to be. You could feel it shake with each explosion.”

As soon as the last firework disappeared in the cloud of smoke, boats that had been parked for more than two days to see the show quickly rode away tooting their horns. and people poured back into Cambridge and the Back Bay.