The whole world may not be watching, but Boston’s legendary Fourth of July celebration — celebrating its 40th anniversary, still under the guiding hand of philanthropist David Mugar — will be a major event nonetheless. Mostly, it will be a chance for Bostonians to gather in a spirit of togetherness just two and one-half months after the pain of Patriot’s Day. But it also will serve as proof that the show can truly go on even in an atmosphere of heightened security.
This year, as most Bostonians already know, the national-TV spotlight is shifting from the Esplanade to New York City, with a glitzy, multi-genre concert featuring Usher, Mariah Carey, and Tim McGraw supplanting the Boston Pops. But that should be of little consequence for the half-million people who picnic on the Esplanade lawn and line the Charles River in Boston and Cambridge for the celebratory fireworks: This was always, first and foremost, a local celebration of patriotic spirit.
Not being bound to a national prime-time schedule means that the program will start a family-friendly hour earlier. It will offer more of a showcase for local talent such as Susan Tedeschi and Ayla Brown rather than superstars cementing their brand. In many ways, a more intimate event is just what the region needs after the Boston Marathon bombings. What is normally an occasion of revelry and flag waving will also be a time to recall the Marathon victims, and express genuine pride in Boston’s recovery.
In addition, the lower-key event, which will still be televised locally on WBZ, will offer a chance for Boston to fine-tune security before the national spotlight returns with next year’s Marathon. State Police have announced a secure perimeter with screening gates and more cameras in the vicinity of the Hatch Shell. No longer will celebrants be able to carry backpacks, drag wheeled coolers, or bring large liquid containers. No items other than chairs or blankets will be allowed after 4 p.m. Thursday. For Bostonians who’ve enjoyed the Fourth on the Esplanade in the past, these changes may require some adjustment, and patience is in order as organizers work out how to reduce safety risks without dampening the celebration.
Many of the new restrictions are likely to be repeated next April at the Marathon finish area and other sensitive gathering places along the route. The loss of national television exposure and the restrictions on items on the Esplanade are a small price to pay if the result is a new era of major open-air events in Boston, in equal measures joyful and secure.