With a whole host of parties and parades, mega-musical events and fireworks celebrating the Fourth of July in Philadelphia, this year promises to be one of the most exhilarating holiday commemorations to date.
There's just so much to see and do as the City of Brotherly Love goes all out to show the nation -and the world - that this is where democracy truly began and still flourishes today.
World-famous celebrities are scheduled to perform - Elton John, Patti LaBelle, Dave Matthews, Will Smith, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Peter Nero and the Philly Pops and more - all playing free concerts.
And here's a bit of trivia: Did you realize that no living person has ever heard the Liberty Bell ring? But this Fourth of July, at the annual "Let Freedom Ring" ceremony, America will hear the first ringing of the Normandy Bell, just cast as an exact replica of the Liberty Bell!
The Normandy Bell is a gift from the French to commemorate the 60th anniversary of June 6, 1944 - otherwise known as D-Day. Gov. Ed Rendell officially will greet the French contingent when the Normandy Bell arrives with a military escort at the Liberty Bell Center.
Four children - descendants of signers of the Declaration of Independence - will quietly tap the Liberty Bell, and then the Normandy Bell will be rung for the first time (tuned to sound as the Liberty Bell once did before it cracked in 1846, when it was rung for George Washington's birthday).
Bells, Bells, Bells!
This will set off bell ringing in more than 10,000 destinations worldwide, including the Crystal Cathedral in California; Old North Church in Boston; Pearl Harbor in Hawaii; and the United Airlines Flight No. 93 Memorial Chapel in Shanksville, Pa.
There will be music and entertainment by the Philadelphia Boys Choir, the Navy Ceremonial Band from Washington, D.C.; the Second Pennsylvania Regiment and the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, among others.
Quite moving and patriotic, the event dates back to a 1963 Joint Resolution of Congress officially authorizing a national bell-ringing ceremony.
When the Normandy Bell is set up at the National Constitution Center, where it will be exhibited through September. Visitors may have the honor of ringing the bell on a daily basis at 9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Starting July 1, there will be extended hours at the Independence Visitor Center, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center and the National Constitution Center. Independence Mall will be bustling all weekend long with special events and exhibits, ranging from playful to serious.
At the Independence Visitor Center, "Eyes Wide Open - The Human Cost of the War in Iraq" exhibition will be on display on the lawn. At the National Constitution Center, "May the Fourth Be With You" is a space-themed weekend that includes screenings of the original "Star Wars" trilogy, as well as other out-of-this-world musical performances and activities.
Another exciting highlight is the center's first traveling exhibition, "Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War," which runs to Nov. 4.
And where better to celebrate the holiday than at the National Liberty Museum in Society Hill? During its "Liberty Days," there will be special tours and patriotic crafts heralding the spirit of American liberty. Activities include create-your-own presidential china - inspired by the museum's collection of authentic White House china - and a free handbook, "Fun & Safe Games" for summertime. Also, the "Craft Corner" will show guests how to make explosion-free firecrackers out of colorful paper.
On July 3 is "Storytelling & Songs With Heroes of America's Independence," in which families learn the inside story of the Fourth of July from two "experts" - Gen. George Washington and period troubadour Bill Schustik.
There's also great anticipation surrounding the two huge free events expected to draw more than a million people to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
On July 2, the Bob Geldof- produced concert Live 8 aims to help save millions of lives in Africa. It is part of a simultaneous international concert series with an expected audience of nearly a billion people worldwide. An ever-growing lineup of artists includes Dave Matthews, Will Smith, Bon Jovi, Stevie Wonder and Rob Thomas.
Also on July 2 is the Sunoco Welcome America's first annual rhythm-and-blues concert, featuring nationally acclaimed "American Idol" winner Ruben Studdard and pop-music star Stephanie Mills. Taking place at the Great Plaza at Penn's Landing, the concert will celebrate Gamble & Huff, creators of "The Sound of Philadelphia," and their founding of the national Rhythm and Blues Foundation in Philadelphia. The show will be followed by fireworks on the Delaware.
On July 3, for the second year in a row, Peter Nero and the Philly Pops will perform on a stage in front of Independence Hall in a free concert to honor not only the nation's birthday, but to celebrate the first-time lighting of this historic building. The concert begins at 8 p.m., and concludes with the lighting ceremony at sundown.
On July 4, the much-anticipated Sunoco Philadelphia Free Concert, featuring international star Elton John, will begin at 8:30 p.m. on the steps in front of the art museum. Preceding this concert at 6:30 p.m. will be a parade along the Parkway. Special guests performing that night also include singers Patti LaBelle and Bryan Adams.
The free concert and fireworks display celebrating America's Independence Day will be followed at 11 p.m. by a fundraising Ball with proceeds to fight the battle against HIV/AIDS.
The concert will be broadcast regionally by 6ABC.
For more info, call 800-537-7676 or visit: gophila.com.
Also on the docket …
July 1: Guests attending the Phillies ball game versus the Atlanta Braves in citizens Bank Park will enjoy a spectacular fireworks show following the game. Tickets required.
July 2-4: At Sesame Place in Langhorne, a special parade will feature the history of the American flag and the national bird, the Bald Eagle. Admission.
July 2: In Peddlers Village in Lahaska, the second annual patriotic event features live entertainment, children's activities and picnic-style favorites. Free.
July 2-10: The Kutztown "Pennsylvania German Festival" on the Kutztown Fairgrounds offers juried folks artists and craftspeople, handmade quilts, Pennsylvania Dutch foods and more. Admission, but free parking.
July 3: The 21st annual "Concerts Under the Stars" series will take place in King of Prussia. Admission.
July 3: Independence Eve Celebration at Historic Grange Estate in Havertown features an ice-cream social and music on the lawn of the mansion. Admission.
July 4: The 102nd Fourth of July Celebration at Renninger Park on Easton Road in Jenkintown offers a parade through Glenside and evening fireworks at Abington High School. Free.
July 4: The Main Street Sound will perform in Reeves Park Bandshall in Phoenixville. A 30-piece band is all set to celebrate Gershwin and Dorsey. Free.
July 4: In Memorial Park in Langhorne: a parade, games, food, music, hot-air balloons and fireworks.