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A worker makes electrical connections to a fireworks shell that has been loaded into its firing tube midday Saturday.
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Despite the hot and humid weather, masses from around the world crowded into Boston for one of the most anticipated Fourth of July celebrations in America. Everyone was full of national spirit; children and adults alike wore red and blue foam Lady Liberty crowns and played games on blankets spread out along the banks of the Charles River. Those seeking the best seats for the spectacle arrived early in the morning, stretching clusters of lawn chairs from the Harvard Bridge all the way to the Hatch Shell, where the 38th Annual Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular would take place later in the day. Other spectators took to the seas, docking their boats around the barge from which the firework show would ignite and release its potential energy into the skies.

Over half a million people turned out for the celebrations, and the concert began at 8:30 p.m. with Keith Lockhart conducting the Boston Pops at the Hatch Shell. Singer Lionel Richie was expected to join the Boston Pops, but he bowed out at the last minute, citing strained vocal chords. Country music star Martina McBride stepped in for Richie and sang her hit songs “Independence Day” and “This One’s for the Girls.” The audience joined along in song as well, especially during the Pops’ rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Other guest singers who performed that night included Norm Lewis, who sang “Go the Distance” from Hercules. Following Lewis, Michael Chiklis, a native of Lowell, Mass., and host of the event, performed “’Til I Come Home.” Lockhart, who was wearing a white jacket with a black bow tie and suspenders, charismatically lead the crowd in a patriotic sing-along before the start of Tchaikovsky’s classic 1812 Overture.

Early birds compete for the best spots

Even though people were lined up at the gates to the Oval at 7 a.m. to claim a spot, others who arrived later — provided that they obtained a wristband at the Hatch Shell in the morning — were also able to find a seat, especially if they came alone. Rachel Manke, a native of Connecticut who is interning in the Boston area, said that she had arrived at 8:45 a.m. Despite seeing the show on TV, Manke said that this year was her first time to experience the show live. “[I] wanted to at least do it once,” she said.

Manke and other spectators who arrived early staked out spots on the Oval and spent hours together in the sun. Manke noted the “great community spirit” of those who camped out.

Strategies for beating the heat varied from person to person. Some opted to buy cold drinks and treats from vendors scattered throughout the Esplanade, while others sought shade under popup tents. The Oval itself, directly in front of the Hatch Shell, was covered by a makeshift village of tents and blankets. Event coordinators, citing the large turnout for the rehearsal on July 3, expected the Oval to reach its full seating capacity of 10,000 people.

Manke sat in the Oval to watch the concert, but she didn’t have a view of the fireworks due to the surrounding trees. However, Manke didn’t mind. She said that she wasn’t overly concerned since the concert was “more of a singular experience,” while she could see fireworks elsewhere.

Some people, however, prioritized the fireworks show over the concert, including a group of MIT Class of 2015 students here for Interphase. Seated in the shade along the river, some snacked on popcorn, while others came equipped for the long wait with p-sets and readings for their classes. With a view of the Green building almost directly across the river, they were content to listen to the concert through the loudspeakers that were distributed across the Esplanade.

The fireworks began at around 10:30 p.m. with accompanying music including “Firework” by Katy Perry, “Fireflies” by Owl City, and “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz. Fireworks in the form of green and red smiley faces and green cubes stretched across the night sky. During “Fireflies,” a myriad of twinkling lights cascaded over the Charles. There were also shapes for the hungry as colorful sandwiches hung in various positions above the spectators. For the scientifically inclined, a series of what appeared to be atoms with increasing numbers of orbitals flashed across the sky. Red hearts bursted and slowly diffused in the sky while the Boston Pops performed “There’s a Place for Us” by Carrie Underwood. For the finale, fireworks during “The Star-Spangled Banner” turned the night sky bright with a multitude of red, white, and blue explosions.

As the Fourth of July celebration finally drew to a close, a golden, sparkling canopy spread over the skyline, bringing a magnificent ending to a day of enjoying hot but beautiful weather, spending quality time with family and friends, and celebrating our nation’s 235th birthday.