For the first time since pre-pandemic 2019, Philadelphia’s staple summer Wawa Welcome America celebration will offer its typical full in-person programming this year, including the return of the festival to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the addition of new events like block parties and programming focused on mental health, reports the Philadelphia Business Journal.
The 30th iteration of the 16-day program will run from June 19 to July 4, once again including Juneteenth celebrations in the festivities. Wawa Welcome America operated on a virtual basis in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and returned on a hybrid basis last year, though many core elements were markedly different than usual, such as the pinnacle July 4th concert taking place at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.
About 500,000 total attendees are expected to turn out for the festival this year, Welcome America Inc. CEO Michael DelBene told the Philadelphia Business Journal. The majority will stem from the region but others are expected to travel from afar. As such, the return of a full in-person festival is expected to produce “a significant economic impact” on local businesses including hotels and restaurants, he noted, as “this year everything is back where it belongs.”
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Events like Wawa Welcome America play a role in drumming up national attention for Philadelphia in the years leading up to the 2026 semiquincentennial, DelBene added. The organization made the strategic decision to integrate Juneteenth into the lineup, and other potential additions aren’t off the books. For example, Welcome America may look to add some days closer to Memorial Day, and extra programming may bolster the festival over the next few years, he said.
“I'm not committing to this, but maybe one parade becomes two, one concert becomes two, 50 programs becomes 60,” DelBene told PBJ.com. “We're going to grow, grow, grow so that we're not going to go from 0 to 2026 — we're going to grow every year leading up to it.”
New this year is an Avenue of the Arts Block Party presented by banking partner PNC that will take place at the Kimmel Cultural Campus in celebration of the local arts and culture community, DelBene said during a news conference at the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps on Tuesday morning. In partnership with Independence Blue Cross and the city, Welcome America will also promote for the first time opportunities for Philadelphians to receive “mental health first aid training,” a public education program that teaches people how to identify, understand and respond to signs of behavioral health challenges or crises.
PBJ.com highlights some of the other events planned over the 16 days of the Wawa Welcome America festival.