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Philadelphia’s annual festival celebrating the United States’ birthday returns with a full lineup of in-person events from Juneteenth through July 4. Now sponsored by Wawa, the Welcome America festival has offered the city and region a free Fourth of July concert since its inaugural event 1993.
It is not to be confused with Made in America, a similarly named music fest founded by Jay-Z that’s been running in Philly since 2012. The Labor Day weekend lineup this year is headlined by Justin Bieber and Lil Baby, alongside Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, Bobby Shmurda, A$AP Ferg, Tinashe and many more.
The mixup between the two festivals is common: before the pandemic, both events drew massive summertime crowds with live shows on the Ben Franklin Parkway.
This year, Welcome America is moving off the Parkway and into the Mann Center for the Performing Arts. Though there’s no cost, you’ll still need a ticket to get into the Fairmount Park venue. Organizers say that’ll allow for more social distancing and other COVID-19 safety precautions.
At 16 days, this year’s slate of events will be the longest in the festival’s history. For the first time, the celebration will incorporate educational programming focused on Juneteenth, the commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
Here’s a quick rundown of some Welcome America schedule highlights:
- June 19: The African American Museum in Philadelphia hosts a free, day-long festival, focusing on the history of Juneteenth as it relates to America’s independence
- June 20: “Rocky” is screened outdoors on the Art Museum steps, kicking off a series of movies throughout the following week
- June 20 through July 4: Dilworth Park and Love Park play host to the “Broad + Market” festival, featuring dozens of dance companies, musical acts and other performances
- July 1: Wawa Hoagie Day returns to Independence Mall, where Wawa staff volunteer to make more than 50,000 hoagies for first responders and health care workers
- July 4: Bebe Rexha and Flo Rida headline a daytime music fest at the Mann (tickets available June 19)
- July 4: The fireworks show is back on the Parkway, following a hiatus last year.
Made In America also announced its 2021 return last week, with rap and electronic acts slated for Labor Day Weekend in September.
Compare and contrast the two festivals, past and present.
Nonprofit fest vs. Jay-Z’s baby
Welcome America: Started in 1993 by the non-profit Welcome America, Inc., in tandem with the opening of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The annual Independence Day celebration has since gone through numerous corporate sponsors. Are you old enough to remember when it was the Sunoco Welcome America? Congrats, you’re old. Wawa took over in 2010.
Made In America: Rapper and business mogul Jay-Z founded MIA in 2012. Over the last nine years, it’s gone through a number of different sponsors. Budweiser parted ways with the festival in 2018 to concentrate more on “country music activations,”
What they looked like during COVID:
Welcome America: Falling right in the middle of the pandemic’s first wave, Welcome America went all virtual with a televised show featuring Jason Derulo and Cynthia Erivo.
Made in America: Cancelled.
Free vs. ticketed
Welcome America: Free, just like our founders intended.
Made In America: $100 and up early bird tickets, but prices are now hovering over $160 for a two-day pass, according to StubHub. It seems steep, but compared to other tickets with major pop artists, some regular attendees consider Made In America a bargain — especially given the central location on the East Coast. Tickets purchased for last year’s cancelled festival will be valid for this year, according to NJ.com.
Welcome America: Family and kid friendly.
Made In America: Teens, young adults and people who want to feel like they’re young adults.
Notable headliners of the past:
Welcome America: The 90s features some golden lineups: The Pointer Sisters and The Philly Pops for the inaugural event (1993); The Beach Boys (1995); Patti Labelle (1996); Ray Charles (1997); Boyz II Men (1998). Then came Earth, Wind & Fire (2000), Hall & Oates (2007) and Elton John with Patti LaBelle (2005). The Roots have headlined the show regularly since 2010.
Made In America: Jay-Z (duh), Beyoncé (double duh), Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Niki Minaj, Skrillex, J-Cole, John Mayer, Pearl Jam, Modest Mouse, The National, Death Cab for Cutie — there are too many to count. It’s been a who’s who of pop, rap and rock artists for the last decade.
Best fan cameo:
Welcome America: Then-Mayor Michael Nutter emceeing “Rapper’s Delight” with the Roots on stage at the 2015 Independence Day concert.
Made In America: Joel Embiid mixing with the crowd at the 2018 show, so tall that he had a better view than you did on your friend’s shoulders.