For the first time in its 28-year history, Philly’s Fourth of July party will be hosted virtually.
The Wawa Welcome America festival is being moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Jim Kenney announced Wednesday.
“Philadelphia is a city of strong traditions, and I’m excited to see this tradition continue,” Kenney said.
Details of the virtual festivities are still being ironed out, per Welcome America President and CEO Michael DelBene. All the events will definitely be free, but will happen online over the course of seven days this summer. So the city will still host a big concert, but it’ll be broadcast on NBC10 and only attended virtually.
“All of the events will be completely virtual. The only way you’ll be able to access them is in your home,” DelBene said. “The concert will be broadcast live from a location in Philadelphia, we ask people to stay home and respect the social distancing guidelines in place.”
On the upside, he added, “the reach that a virtual festival has is larger than any live festival could ever imagine.”
To make sure Philadelphians don’t try to attend the concert anyway, DelBene said staff will secure the locations and won’t be supplying any jumbotrons to watch the musical event.
Can fireworks happen at a secure location? Probably not, although no specifics were provided.
“I mean, I have my idea on fireworks, but it’s not ripe enough to be announced yet,” Kenney said, clarifying that “there will not be an outdoor location for people to gather.”
More info on performances and fireworks will be released in the coming weeks on the Welcome America website. A press conference with all details is scheduled for June 10.
Under normal circumstances, Philly’s free Fourth of July party spans an entire week of in-person events like block parties, performances and hoagie-eating festivities — culminating in a giant concert on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway attended by more than 175,000 people. Past headliners have included Pitbull and Mary J. Blige.
But social distancing has made large gatherings like this impossible. City officials said this week that they’re not ready to offer a date when Philadelphia will be ready to reopen, or when big events can resume.
“We’re not safe yet,” said Philly’s Health Commissioner Tom Farley on Monday, “and I can’t predict when we will be.”
The bright side? Although a virtual event would not bring tourists to the city, and so won’t have the same kind of economic impact, it will cost a lot less to produce — and will require many fewer city resources like police and streets maintenance. That’s a bonus for a municipal government that’s now facing a $649 million budget shortfall.
The festival is funded 75% by the Wawa Welcome America nonprofit, which has an annual operating budget of $3 million. The other 25% is kicked in by the city. Hosting the festival online will help cut costs, though officials aren’t yet sure exactly how much they’ll save.
“The overall cost of delivering a virtual festival vs a live festival is substantially less,” DelBene said. “We’re still working through what those final costs are going to be.”
Plus, a virtual festival means it’s not just Philly that gets to celebrate the Fourth in the birthplace of the nation.
DelBene added: “One of the most exciting parts about a virtual festival is that it’s accessible from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.”