by Michelle Neigut
Even if you weren’t there, everyone remembers what it was like in 1969, the summer of love, when Woodstock became one of the most famous outdoor concerts in music history and an icon of the hippie counter culture. Featured on the poster promoting the festival were the symbols for music and peace. Almost 44 years later, we still celebrate the art of music and the power it has to bring people together. And what better way to celebrate its independence than with the largest free outdoor concert of our time, in the heart of where it all began.
Minus all of the mud, some may say yesterday’s celebration could have been a reproduction of the legendary festival. Reportedly 500,000 were barefoot through the fresh grass, lining the parkway, and proudly honoring America with red, white and blue everything. Through the smells of the summer heat, the charcoal and hickory smoke from BBQs and the freshness of ripe, juicy peaches and strawberries for desserts to the sizzling grease from cheese steaks, it reminds you that you are in Philly and has you salivating for a little bit of all that the city has to offer.
While most of the 500,000 were not lucky enough to have a ticketed seat, Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love for a reason. No one was going to feel left out as each artist was blown up about 100 times larger than life so that each of the half-million people in attendance could feel as though if they stretched their arms out, a hand would reach back. Fresh from the weekend release of his movie, Let Me Explain, Philadelphia native Kevin Hart was this year’s hilarious host, even cracking a few jokes during commercial breaks. And when he wasn’t being a host, he was being a dad to his two adorable kids.
As the son of folk rock artists James Taylor and Carly Simon, Ben Taylor has legendary and commanding music running through his veins. Although he is but one man on an imposing stage, he has such a humbling and yet influential presence. Juxtaposing from a rather touching song of ‘Wicked Way’ to one of greater infamy, I have to admit, even I was rather impressed with Taylor’s jazzier version of T.I.’s “Whatever You Like.” Despite the fact that there were children in the audience, Taylor paid no heed to such innocence while including the song’s few expletives; in turn giving the song its truest form of artistic integrity.
Following Fourth of July traditions, Mayor Nutter got the party started out right when he prepared to introduce The Roots. Everybody who is anybody must now know that The Roots, eat, sleep and breathe their music for Philadelphia, their home. With a go big or go home attitude and even bigger jazz, rock, and roll, hip-hop, and reggae infused sounds that can resonate for miles throughout the streets, The Roots had everybody on their feet and it was time to get this party started.
Next up were the ladies. Singer, songwriter, and poet Jill Scott has enough soul to fill an entire city block or more, and that is exactly what she did last night. Through her knock-out rendition of ‘Home’, the Grammy winner exudes grace, elegance, and of course a little soulful funk. With such an eclectic array of music, no show would be complete without a little Rock n’ Roll. Dressed to impress and with an ethereal glow, Grace Potter rocked the house with impressive guitar solos and a rendition of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ that even Led Zeppelin would be proud of.
Teenie boppers of the world united next as baby-faced Hunter Hayes filled in as the replacement for Demi Lovato after the singer fell ill. Teenage girls and some mothers, too, swooned through ‘Somebody’s Heartbreak’ as if Hayes sang the song just to them. After Hayes, and with the number two album on the charts right now, J-Cole was both electric and real for ‘Crooked Smile’, reminding everyone that you should never let anyone tell you that you are not good enough.
Following J-Cole, continuing his Born and Raised tour, John Mayer was kind enough to be a guest headliner for this year’s celebration. If it was at all possible and taking us back a few years to ‘Waiting on the World to Change’ this symbolic song sounds even better now than when Mayer first penned it. Ending the night with a bang of his own before the big bang of firework florets, Grammy award winner Ne-Yo hit all the right notes with some of his hits that had a sea of people dancing in the streets and he definitely gave us everything last night.
Whether you were at the party on the parkway, or at a friend’s, poolside with a Corona in one hand and a sparkler in the other, or merely watching the Fourth of July craziness in your pajamas from the comfort of your own home, we hope everybody had a great time, we know we did, and we can’t wait to do it all again next year.