For the first time in 28 years, Wawa Welcome America, Philadelphia's annual Independence Day celebration, will be held virtually.
Festival CEO Michael DelBene and Mayor Jim Kenney announced the change to the 2020 festival on Tuesday during the city's daily coronavirus news briefing. The move from an in-person event to broadcast and online only is designed to protect the community in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
Past Wawa Welcome America festivals have been spread over a full week and filled with 50 free events like music and dance performances, block parties and movie showings spread across the city. The event is capped off with a party on July 4th along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, ending with a major concert and fireworks show. Jennifer Hudson and Meghan Trainor headlined the 2019 concert.
The 2020 concert will still be held, but without an audience. It will be broadcast on NBC10 and its related digital platforms, as well as in Spanish on Telemundo's sister network, TeleXitos. NBC10, Telemundo62 and both station's parent company, Comcast NBCUniversal, are major sponsors of Wawa Welcome America.
Jennifer Hudson and Meghan Trainor Rock the Parkway
The virtual events will be spread out over multiple days and will be designed to "create meaningful, at-home experiences," organizers said in a news release obtained in advance of Tuesday's announcement. They will still be focused on the city's arts, culture and history.
"It is a challenging time, and while we may not be able to gather in our city's great public spaces this year, we are eager to celebrate in a new way through interactive, virtual experiences," DelBene said in the release.
Wawa Welcome America
16 days of safe, responsible, in-person celebration of Freedom and Liberty | June 19 – July 4, 2021
Kenney said health and safety are paramount adding that officials are "confident that this virtual event will continue to create new opportunities to bring our community together in celebration of America’s Birthday."
An announcement on the festival schedule, the virtual events and who will perform in the 2020 concert will come in June, organizers said.
The decision to hold a virtual festival highlights the uncertainty communities face in combating the spread of COVID-19. Philadelphia remains under a stay-at-home order with more than 200 newly confirmed cases every day.
In the absence of widespread antibody testing and knowledge about immunity to reinfection, many large concerts and events have been cancelled. Leaders fear large groups of people could lead to a spike in new cases.
The celebration of America's Birthday in its birthplace draws an estimated 500,000 attendees, festival data shows. It's not only a regional crowd. Hotel occupancy rates near 90% during the Fourth of July weekend, according to data provided by Visit Philadelphia. A new outbreak could easily leap to other parts of the country like what was seen after New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebration in February.
With Wawa Welcome America moving to a virtual presentation, Philadelphia has been able to spare shuttering two of its largest events for now. The other, the 2020 Blue Cross Broad Street Run, which attracts more than 40,000 runners, was pushed back from May to October.