Metro

Esplanade visitors know what they want: the Pops, fireworks

This story was reported by Globe correspondents Allana Barefield, Kiana Cole, Catie Edmondson, and Sara Salinas. It was written by Globe correspondent Felicia Gans.

Thousands of spectators crowded the banks of the Charles River in a sea of red, white, and blue Tuesday, celebrating Independence Day with a dazzling display of music and fireworks.

As the traditional Boston Pops concert kicked off, the audience clapped along to old favorites and eagerly counted down to Bloomberg TV’s live broadcast of the event, which featured performers Melissa Etheridge, Andy Grammer, and Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr.

Many in the crowd had gathered at the Hatch Shell hours before the concert began, turning the July 4 celebration into a full day of festivities.

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“It’s what I do on the Fourth,” said Cara Molk, a Danvers resident who arrived at the Esplanade around 7 a.m. “You come, throw down your blanket, and enjoy the day.”

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The concert drew people from near and far, many of them bound by years of tradition and a sense of obligation to carry them forward. Catherine Peluso, 47, came from Orlando with her two sisters to see the concert. Their mother, who passed away a few years ago, loved the Pops and watched the performance every year.

“We decided to uphold her tradition and honor her,” Peluso said.

Seeing people from all over the country — and around the world — come together for the Fourth was particularly special this year, she said.

“What a patriotic event,” she said. “The way things are going right now, in the country, in the world — we need it.”

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Like her mother before her, Peluso was most excited to hear the Pops play.

“It gives you goosebumps,” she said.

Military veteran Brad Mills traveled from New Hampshire for the fireworks show to celebrate “what it is to be the people of these United States of America.”

“That’s really why I joined the military, and that’s why I stayed in so long,” he said.

Mills retired from the New Hampshire Army National Guard in 2012 after nearly 20 years of service. He and his brother, Matthew, usually celebrate the Fourth with a quiet barbecue and close friends, far from the sudden crackle of fireworks.

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But celebrating July 4 in the birthplace of the American Revolution was a “once in a lifetime” experience, he said.

“This is the place it all started,” Matthew Mills said. “That’s what made us free.”

Leading up to the event, streams of people marked their spot with umbrellas, chairs, brightly colored tents, and coolers. To pass the time, many people brought card games, Frisbees, and portable speakers, enjoying a warm summer day while waiting for the sun to set and the night sky to light up.

Meredith Lowmaster of Quincy sought shade under a tent, where she read from her Kindle and rested on an inflatable “Hangout Bag,” something of a portable couch.

“I’ve lived here for 10 years, and I come out almost every year,” she said. The same spot, too, under a tree to the left of the Hatch Shell.

Some traveled from across the country — and beyond — to celebrate the nation’s birthday in historic Boston. Linda Windham, 70, traveled from South Carolina to check the Boston fireworks show off her bucket list. Decked out in flag printed shoes, shirt, and a sequined hat, she said she had watched the show on TV as long as she could remember. It was time to see it live.

“This is one thing I have to see before I die,” Windham said.

Chanel Adams, from Firestone, Colo., is taking a monthlong tour of the country with her husband and four children. Stopping in Boston for the Fourth was a priority.

“I don’t think you could get this experience in any other city,” she said.

Nataly Bautista, 24, graduated from Northeastern in 2016, and has stayed in Boston since, but Tuesday’s holiday was the first Independence Day she spent with her family from the Dominican Republic.

Boston, MA -- 7/4/2017 - James Barnes, of Brighton kicks back as he stakes a claim to his space for the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular later this evening. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff) Topic: 05IndepenceDay Reporter:
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
James Barnes of Brighton kicked back as he staked a claim to his space for the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular later this evening.

She said the holiday gives her and her family a chance to be a part of something unique.

“Back there, we don’t celebrate it there,” she said. “Here, we celebrate the independence.”

Safety was on the forefront of many attendees’ minds, with several citing recent terrorist attacks in crowded public areas.

“I honestly felt a little nervous about coming, but now that I’m here, I feel a little better,” said Kim Ercolini, 23, of Rockland. “There’s a huge military presence here.”

Officials said there were no known threats to the event, but security was tight. Spectators were scanned with metal detectors and had their bags searched, and groups of State Police and military personnel surveyed the area.

Phil Touchette, a volunteer at the concert for 18 years, handed out small American flags to spectators. What keeps him coming back year after year? The answer is simple.

“It’s July Fourth, and we’re in Boston,” said Touchette, of Wakefield. “There’s no place I’d rather be.”

As two young girls in flag T-shirts and pigtails walked by, Touchette handed them each a American flag.

“Wave them proudly,” he said.

Boston, MA - 7/4/17 - The finale during the Fourth of July Pops celebration on the Esplanade on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. (Nicholas Pfosi for The Boston Globe) Topic: 05IndepenceDaypic
Nicholas Pfosi for The Boston Globe
The finale during the Fourth of July Pops celebration on the Esplanade.

Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.