2015′s Best & Worst for 4th of July Celebrations

by Richie Bernardo

WH-2014-Best-and-Worst-Cities-for-July-4th-CelebrationsNothing is more American than going all out on Fourth of July. We grill, we drink and we blow stuff up — all in the name of freedom. But freedom isn’t free. Everything — from hamburger buns to travel to fireworks — costs major scratch.

And our collective consumption on Uncle Sam’s birthday shows how much we’re willing to pay for our independence. This year, WalletHub projects Fourth of July spending to be around $346.50 on average per household, up 5 percent since 2014. On beer alone, we’re projected to spend more than $1 billion. That’s to wash down the 150 million hot dogs, 700 million pounds of chicken and 190 million pounds of beef we eat on this star-spangled occasion.

With Independence Day festivities in mind, WalletHub compared the 100 largest U.S. cities based on how well they balance holiday cost and fun. We did so using 14 different metrics such as the duration of fireworks shows, average gas prices, the number of festivals and performances, weather forecasts and more. Below, you can find the complete rankings, a detailed methodology, money-saving tips and answers to relevant questions from leading experts.

Main Findings

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Overall Rank City “Entertainment & Food” Rank “Attractions & Activities” Rank “Fourth of July Weather Forecast” Rank
1 Minneapolis, MN 72 1 2
2 Seattle, WA 60 9 8
3 St. Paul, MN 89 10 1
4 Portland, OR 70 8 16
5 San Francisco, CA 55 20 5
6 Irvine, CA 82 13 7
7 San Diego, CA 67 18 5
8 Madison, WI 4 5 66
9 Atlanta, GA 48 17 33
10 St. Petersburg, FL 65 12 41
11 Virginia Beach, VA 27 31 24
12 Oakland, CA 94 29 2
13 Boston, MA 64 3 62
14 Honolulu, HI 97 23 18
15 Denver, CO 1 14 86
16 St. Louis, MO 3 6 99
17 Birmingham, AL 5 88 39
18 Washington, DC 51 4 79
19 Sacramento, CA 61 24 47
20 Buffalo, NY 41 16 65
21 Detroit, MI 47 22 58
22 Omaha, NE 38 7 79
23 Cincinnati, OH 81 2 87
24 Tampa, FL 71 26 43
25 Baltimore, MD 14 19 78
26 Miami, FL 53 34 33
27 New Orleans, LA 21 11 97
28 Pittsburgh, PA 22 21 77
29 Plano, TX 56 40 19
30 Long Beach, CA 78 42 14
31 Greensboro, NC 31 48 24
32 Cleveland, OH 92 15 57
33 Scottsdale, AZ 19 42 49
34 Los Angeles, CA 16 63 8
35 Aurora, CO 7 27 68
36 Raleigh, NC 23 53 33
37 Fremont, CA 84 49 8
38 Dallas, TX 44 52 24
39 Orlando, FL 12 33 84
40 Boise, ID 87 36 44
41 Colorado Springs, CO 7 42 63
42 Milwaukee, WI 20 35 70
43 Philadelphia, PA 35 28 89
44 Nashville, TN 33 59 30
45 San Jose, CA 74 54 16
46 Austin, TX 25 41 64
47 Glendale, AZ 39 51 50
48 Albuquerque, NM 50 30 88
49 Corpus Christi, TX 42 66 19
50 Santa Ana, CA 57 69 8
51 Lincoln, NE 37 32 93
52 Reno, NV 49 56 50
53 Durham, NC 17 78 19
54 Phoenix, AZ 13 71 50
55 Kansas City, MO 24 37 95
56 New York, NY 68 39 67
57 Norfolk, VA 11 47 73
58 Chicago, IL 100 25 59
59 Fort Worth, TX 40 80 24
60 Anaheim, CA 86 68 14
61 Toledo, OH 68 79 12
62 Lubbock, TX 30 77 33
63 Irving, TX 46 76 24
64 El Paso, TX 79 62 41
65 Anchorage, AK 99 38 60
66 Mesa, AZ 10 75 50
67 Tucson, AZ 28 45 96
68 Fort Wayne, IN 52 90 13
69 Chesapeake, VA 6 60 70
70 Baton Rouge, LA 66 46 75
71 Hialeah, FL 85 67 38
72 Jacksonville, FL 36 57 73
73 Garland, TX 91 74 19
74 Chula Vista, CA 96 82 2
75 Tulsa, OK 18 49 92
76 Chandler, AZ 26 81 50
77 Memphis, TN 54 85 39
78 Charlotte, NC 9 99 30
79 Stockton, CA 90 72 44
80 Riverside, CA 80 84 30
81 Houston, TX 45 64 68
82 Arlington, TX 73 93 19
83 Winston-Salem, NC 34 97 24
84 Columbus, OH 75 61 82
85 Las Vegas, NV 43 64 85
86 Oklahoma City, OK 2 86 76
87 San Bernardino, CA 93 91 33
88 Louisville, KY 62 58 98
89 Lexington, KY 76 55 93
90 Laredo, TX 58 96 56
91 Indianapolis, IN 15 89 82
92 San Antonio, TX 59 92 61
93 Fresno, CA 88 95 44
94 Bakersfield, CA 63 97 47
95 Jersey City, NJ 98 69 72
96 Wichita, KS 32 82 100
97 Gilbert, AZ 29 100 50
98 Newark, NJ 95 73 81
99 Henderson, NV 83 87 90
100 North Las Vegas, NV 77 94 91

Best-Cities-for-July-4th-Celebrations-Artwork-3

Tips for July 4th Savings & Safety

  1. Comparison-Shop & Book Packages: Consumers have a wealth of pricing information at their immediate disposal these days, so in addition to checking out WalletHub’s Best & Worst Cities report, it makes sense to hunt around for attractive deals online. Booking hotel and transportation accommodations together is often an easy way to save.
  2. Declare Financial Independence: Too many folks are dependent on debt these days, as evidenced by rising credit card debt levels. In the spirit of the holiday, you might want to leverage attractive credit card offers such as the Slate from Chase, which offers zero percent on balance transfers for 15 months with no balance transfer or annual fees, in order to free yourself from your financial burden at the lowest possible cost.
  3. Budget: The best way to keep Fourth of July spending under control is to figure out how much you can afford to spend and then plot out exactly how you wish to allocate the funds. This will give you the foresight necessary to prioritize your expenses as well as to search for low-cost substitutes for certain buys that you may now be questioning.
  4. Arrange Public Transportation: For some reason, many people seem to believe the best way to celebrate Independence Day is to drink, get behind the wheel of a car then trade in their freedom for a jail cell. For everyone’s sake, including your own, look into the availability of public transportation and maybe even factor cab fare into your budget.
  5. Use Common Sense with Fireworks: WalletHub recently caught up with Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, for cautions and best practices when using fireworks:
    • Be careful when mixing sparklers and young children, particularly because they burn at high temperatures and stay hot for a long time.
    • Know what’s permissible where you live, and obey the local laws.
    • Plan your activity in an area that’s free from dry grass and shrubs. Water down the area with a garden hose in advance and have a bucket of water ready just in case.
    • Always use your fireworks outdoors in a safe, flat and non-wooded area.
    • Always have a sober adult in charge of all fireworks activities. Light only one at a time; you don’t want too much going on to prevent people from getting hurt.
    • Never touch, throw or combine fireworks.
    • Do not manipulate the devices. If the fuse does not ignite, do not relight the firework. You want to let it sit for at least 15 minutes and then douse it with water.

Ask the Experts

Americans value their freedom, as evidenced by their record-making consumption during the Fourth of July holiday. But there are ways to celebrate this significant historical moment without breaking the bank. For more money-saving advice, we asked a panel of experts to weigh in. Click on the experts’ profiles below to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:

  1. What money-saving tips do you have for people planning to travel for the Fourth of July?
  2. What are the biggest Fourth of July money-wasters?
  3. Fourth of July falls on a Saturday this year. How does holiday timing affect people’s spending and travel plans?
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  • Anthony G. Sheppard Professor in the Department of Recreation, Parks & Tourism Administration at California State University, Sacramento
  • Greg B. C. Shaw Associate Professor in the Department of Recreation, Parks & Tourism Administration at California State University, Sacramento
  • Carl Winston Director of L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at San Diego State University
  • David Vaught Associate Teaching Professor and Chair of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism at University of Missouri, School of Natural Resources
  • Patrick Ohalloran Assistant Professor of Hospitality Management at New York City College of Technology
  • Yi Zhang Senior Lecturer and Batten Institute Fellow at University of Virginia Darden School of Business
  • Paul Stansbie Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Grand Valley State University, College of Community and Public Service

Anthony G. Sheppard

Professor in the Department of Recreation, Parks & Tourism Administration at California State University, Sacramento
Anthony G. Sheppard
Fourth of July falls on a Saturday this year. How does holiday timing affect people’s spending and travel plans?

A Saturday holiday is a mixed blessing for both consumers and businesses. For those who work a relatively traditional workweek and who are so inclined, it makes it a little easier to stay out later and party a little harder than they might in the midweek. Similarly, it's also a little easier to travel slightly further - but not to the same degree as Friday or Monday holidays that create bonus long weekends for many workers. Meanwhile, for those employed in recreation, tourism and hospitality fields, as well as those in retail and entertainment businesses, Saturday is one of the busiest days of the week and it's tough to take time off. For businesses, because Saturday is already a big day of spending on fun activities, it doesn't necessarily add much and may even detract for some - the Fourth of July is so associated with grilling and picnics, for example, that it's not a holiday that encourages eating out at expensive restaurants.

In terms of other spending, for at least some of us, 2015 seems like a great year to sit back and let the professionals plan the firework displays. With drought conditions in California and other Western states, grass and brush is so dry that backyard and street fireworks are probably best avoided. Your wallet and your pets will thank you.

Greg B. C. Shaw

Associate Professor in the Department of Recreation, Parks & Tourism Administration at California State University, Sacramento
Greg B. C. Shaw
What money saving tips do you have for people planning to travel for the 4th of July?

Money saving tips for travel are really about deciding where to go to get the best value vs. time spent. Holidays aren’t noted for offering discount travel options, but excessive crowds can reduce the quality of the experience, and thus the perceived value.
  • If you’re planning to travel, avoid the big, A-list, destinations. Prices will be high and the locations will be crowded.
  • The Fourth of July is a family holiday, so even if you’re traveling with a family, look for less-obvious family destinations. In Florida, for example, Orlando will be very crowded, but Sarasota, Jacksonville or West Palm Beach will still have firework shows and beaches, but will not be as busy. Washington, DC will be very crowded, but Richmond, VA should provide good value during the holiday weekend. In southern California, the direction to go is away from the beaches towards the Inland Empire. It will be warmer there, but a better value for hotels and activities.
  • Confirm campgrounds and hotels in advance, and get a hotel with a kitchenette – eating out with families every meal can be a major expense.
  • True bargain hunters should think about traveling only an hour or two from home. This eliminates the need for overnight stays and can even reduce meals away from home. During the weekend, a couple of short day trips for family outings may prove much less expensive than one multi-night trip that encompasses the entire weekend.
What are the biggest 4th of July money-wasters?
  • I’m a big proponent of visiting the country’s popular tourism/recreation destinations like Yosemite National Park and Walt Disney World. But with the Fourth being on a Saturday, people will make short trips and these places will be very crowded (assuming the weather is good). Not that the money is a waste, but the experience will be less-enjoyable with the crowds so high.
  • Planning a night out celebrating at a bar or nightclub is sure to be expensive just because of the drink prices.
Fourth of July falls on a Saturday this year. How does holiday timing affect people’s spending and travel plans?

With the Fourth falling on a Saturday, expect that many people will have Friday off and possibly take Thursday off as well, to make a long-weekend.
  • This could be a mixed-blessing for establishments that cater to nightlife. Saturday is typically already a strong day of the week for clubs and bars, so they won’t pick up a lot there. Additionally, July Fourth activities center on staying home with family and friends. The bonus may come from many businesses giving employees Friday off in observance of Independence Day, in effect creating a three-day weekend. Employees may also opt to take Thursday as a vacation day, giving them four days off. Even without taking Thursday off, the festivities for many people will begin Thursday night after work and continue through Sunday.
  • The extended time vs. a mid-week July Fourth means that people will have the option of travel. Trips of this type will be driving trips a few hours from home rather than plane trips. Weekend destinations that allow for camping, cookouts, family outings and outdoor activities will be popular places.
  • In decades past, the big theme parks were often a little slow on July Fourth. That has changed and many theme parks often hit near-record days on The Fourth as they’ve created a day’s worth of fun for the kids ending with bigger-than-life fireworks shows. With July Fourth being on a Saturday, the theme parks, especially in central Florida and southern California, can expect families in driving range coming in for a couple of days.
  • Restaurants are not traditionally thought of for July Fourth dinners, but with the longer weekend, restaurants with the right promotions can expect to see good business on Thursday and Friday nights especially. Movie theatres should expect the same strong businesses for the extended weekend, but perhaps a little less on Saturday with people opting for family outings.

Carl Winston

Director of L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at San Diego State University
Carl Winston
What money saving tips do you have for people planning to travel for the 4th of July?
  • Treat yourselves to an evening picnic on the 4th and watch the free fireworks. Skip the dinner out.
  • Stay on the outskirts of town and pay lower hotel room rates.
  • Rent an RV instead of a hotel in high priced markets. You can avoid the crowded roads by using the RV as a home base.
Fourth of July falls on a Saturday this year. How does holiday timing affect people’s spending and travel plans?

This is less than desirable for travelers as most hotels and attractions will be on peak pricing. The best deals are next year when it falls on Sunday night (a non-peak time in most markets).

David Vaught

Associate Teaching Professor and Chair of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism at University of Missouri, School of Natural Resources
David Vaught
What money saving tips do you have for people planning to travel for the 4th of July?

If you are close to Canada go and take advantage of a 20% discount on everything. The exchange rate is favorable now. Otherwise, while traveling take a minute to pack some snacks to eat and avoid those expensive fuel stops that end up more than fuel but also a bag full of unhealthy foods. Also, plan your fuel stops which in many paying cases will save you a few dollars on a fill-up. Take advantage of AAA discounts, senior discounts or military deals on hotel stays. These can be substantial.

Plan your use of fuel by routing a trip that allows you to see things close by that you may have never seen before. Most Americans travel close to home but tend to overlook the value of what is near. Most define travel as a trip over 50 miles and a night out, but you can accomplish some great trips closer to home. See your State Parks as an example, or if National Parks, Historic Sites or Monuments are near route your trip to them. They are cheap and informative to the entire family.

Take a back route and travel at 60 MPH instead of 70 MPH. Use the speed limit to slow you down, see more and save some fuel.

What are the biggest 4th of July money-wasters?

Fireworks. But otherwise, just spending on unplanned items. Hotels may increase rates on the holidays, but using your discounts might offset this.

Fourth of July falls on a Saturday this year. How does holiday timing affect people’s spending and travel plans?

For many employees the timing will result in either Friday or Monday off. This means a three day weekend that will be well appreciated by most. Sunday does mean perhaps a later start on Sunday morning, but overall no real difficulties should exist.

Fast food is a huge expense. Picnic along the way; take a small cooler to keep your food cool.

Patrick Ohalloran

Assistant Professor of Hospitality Management at New York City College of Technology
Patrick Ohalloran
What money saving tips do you have for people planning to travel for the 4th of July?

3 Ways to Save on Fourth of July Travel:
  1. Book Way in Advance
  2. For the biggest savings on Fourth of July with regard to air travel, one should book their flight at least three weeks in advance. One should be aware that airfares will continue to rise as the holiday draws near. Cheap last-minute flights are usually not available, not alone for the Fourth of July but for all holiday weekends.

  3. Fly Midweek
  4. If possible, one should fly on Tuesday or Wednesday. Not alone are the flights cheaper but the airports are likely to be less crowded. Less crowded airports give families a traveling comfort zone not usually found during holiday weekends.

  5. Pick an Inexpensive City
  6. The possibility of inexpensive airfares can have a direct link to cities that are not considered within the popular paradise of noted cities, such as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Orleans or Charleston.

Yi Zhang

Senior Lecturer and Batten Institute Fellow at University of Virginia Darden School of Business
Yi Zhang
What money saving tips do you have for people planning to travel for the 4th of July?

Research has shown that people tend to splurge during special occasions. If you think July 4th only occurs once a year, it is much easier to justify spending on almost anything. However, keep in perspective that Memorial Day has just passed and Labor Day is coming up, all of which involve plenty of occasions for spending. It’s easier to keep spending in control if you keep a longer term perspective.

In addition, most trips end up costing a lot more than we expect them to be. Saving money is thus an art that requires exercising control as well as mindfulness. The first question that most people ask is “Does having a budget help?” Unfortunately the answers are yes and no. Yes, having a budget definitely helps to restrain spending, if you have the mental will-power to stop when you are about to exceed the budget. The challenge of course is that most people either don’t keep enough track on when they exceed their budget, or don’t have the will-power to put a stop on their spending when they know they are about to exceed the budget. Even more dangerous is when people discover that their budget is already exceeded. Think about how often we set up a dieting goal and fail to meet it. Research shows that we are much more likely to find ourselves saying “what the hell” and let go any aspect of control following a goal violation. Setting up budget thus can seriously backfire.

Hence, my 3-step suggestions:
  1. Set a reasonable budget. “Reasonable” means for any given amount you are going to allocate to this trip, factor in an extra 20-30% as a buffer. This is going to be critical to prevent those what-the-hell moments. If you don’t end up using the entire fund, everything will go to your retirement savings.
  2. Cash is king. Get all the cash within your budget and use it for the remaining of the trip. That means if you prepay your trip and accommodation with credit card, you will have to set that money aside from your budget. There is nothing more alarming and painful than parting from your own good cash. This will not only remind you how much you have paid for the trip already, but also makes it more difficult for you to splurge further along in the trip. Ever notice how credit companies have made it way too easy for us to keep spending without thinking about it? This is not going to happen if you stay with cash.
  3. Leave the credit cards at home, with the exception of saving one card for emergency needs. You have to tape or seal or mark the credit card in any ridiculous way possible to prevent yourself from easily slipping into the old habit of swiping the card. Consider putting the sealed card then into an envelope with big black “sacred funds” written all over it. You should be good to go. Research shows that if you allocate special mental account for a certain fund, you are less likely to use that fund for other purposes. The catch is that you have to have very strict internal accounting rule to prevent mentally transferring funds across accounts.
Hopefully the cash will provide strong mechanism to prevent unnecessary spending, but just in case you find it not strong enough to raise the salience of transaction cost, think about your financial obligations (mortgage payment, rent, utilities, child care cost and etc.) before you pay. You will be surprised to find that you are willing to pay a lot less if you are aware of your existing financial constraints.

When you come back from the trip, you will be happy to see that you still have cash left from your budget. Consider this your wind-fall gain, because nothings give us more pleasure than wind-fall money. While you are still deriving joy from your unused cash, ride on the positive emotion and deposit it into your retirement fund. I know it’s hard to part from your cash, but try visualizing the fund growing into a much bigger fund over the years.

What are the biggest 4th of July money-wasters?

July 4th is one of my favorite holidays because free activities abound. Watching fireworks is almost certainly free, and so are many outdoor concerts. Before you are about to spend on any activities such as amusement parks or cinemas, think about the free alternative. You get the same amount of enjoyment from either activities, less the transaction cost for the free one. Best of both worlds!

Happy July 4th!

Paul Stansbie

Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Grand Valley State University, College of Community and Public Service
Paul Stansbie
What money saving tips do you have for people planning to travel for the 4th of July?

When considering the better July 4th activities, I start by thinking who I’m celebrating with. Some of my better events have been low key friend and family gatherings topped off by watching a locally organized firework display. If the reason for the celebration is to recognize independence then few opportunities beat interacting with your local community and supporting local businesses.

However, for more elaborate breaks over the 4th July Holiday, I think some of the best ‘big’ cities for me are those associated with American Independence itself where a large investment in the firework displays occur. Therefore, I would suggest Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and New York City for some of the most impressive shows.

Of course, the cities listed above are expensive destinations so budget travelers wishing to venture beyond their community can get a real taste of the 4th at places like Virginia where a plethora of events are being hosted in places like Norfolk and Richmond.

Most state run DMO’s will be promoting their own highlights and encouraging both residents and neighboring visitors to attend events. These will provide a nice, inexpensive opportunity, minimizing air travel and accommodation costs. With lower gas prices this year, I believe more car journeys to in state or neighboring state events should increase.

What are the biggest 4th of July money-wasters?

Think this is always a personal determination based on cost versus benefit by individual travelers and their expectations….a hard one to answer!

Fourth of July falls on a Saturday this year. How does holiday timing affect people’s spending and travel plans?

I think the timing of a Saturday Holiday will undoubtedly be felt by host destinations from an economic perspective…losing that extra day of ‘spending’ outside of the weekend will have obvious financial repercussions. While my gut tells me more regional travel will occur, the advantage of the Saturday Holiday will allow visitors an excuse for a weekend break to these larger cities.

As the economy in the US continues to grow, room rates have held firm and occupancy percentages and average daily rates are some of the highest for years…therefore, I don’t expect that many bargain rates available for last minute travelers. With greater confidence in the economy, consumer spending will be on the increase which bodes well for local communities, should travelers elect to stay closer to home this year.

 

Methodology

In order to find the best and worst cities for Independence Day, WalletHub compared the 100 most populated U.S. cities across three key dimensions, including: 1) Entertainment & Food, 2) Attractions & Activities and 3) Fourth of July Weather Forecast. We then compiled 14 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights.

Please note that “city” refers to city proper and excludes surrounding metro areas.

Entertainment & Food – Total Weight: 5

  • Fourth of July Popularity: Full Weight
  • Legality of Fireworks: Full Weight
  • Number of Fourth of July Festivals & Performances: Full Weight
  • Average Price of Fourth of July Party Ticket: Full Weight
    Note: Averages are based on 4th of July events listed on Eventbrite.com as of June 18, 2015, where at least two events were available.
  • Duration of Fireworks Show: Full Weight
  • Number of Accommodations & Food Services Establishments per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Average Beer & Wine Prices (Heineken’s, 6-pack, 12-oz. containers, excluding any deposit; 1.5-liter bottle, Chablis or Chenin Blanc or any white table wine): Full Weight
  • Lowest Price of a Three-Star Hotel: Full Weight
  • Average Gas Prices: Full Weight
  • Traffic Congestion: Full Weight

Attractions & Activities – Total Weight: 5

  • Walkability: Full Weight
  • WalletHub “Recreation” (Entertainment, Recreational Facilities & Park Quality) Ranking: Triple Weight
    Note: We assigned a triple weight to this metric, given that the recreation ranking comprises 24 total metrics.

Fourth of July Weather Forecast – Total Weight: 2.5

  • Difference Between the Average Forecasted Temperature for July 4th & Ideal Temperature (75°): Full Weight
  • Forecasted Precipitations for July 4th: Double Weight

 
Sources: Data used to create these rankings were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Council for Community and Economic Research, Priceline Group, AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report, American Pyrotechnics Association, WalkScore, TomTom, Eventbrite, AccuWeather, Kayak.com and WalletHub Research.

Author

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Richie Bernardo is a personal finance writer at WalletHub. He graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism and a minor in business from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Previously, he was a…
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Discussion

 
By: Robert1
Jul 7, 2015
This list is arbitrary. Jersey City puts on an awesome, free, walkable, 10.5 hour long "Freedom and Fireworks Festival" in Liberty State Park that includes two 22 minute firework display sets in front of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan (Freedom Tower) skyline. The weather was perfect with a very large, festive and safe crowd. Not sure how that results in 95 out of 100 U.S. cities based on your data. Toledo, OH is "better"? read more
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By: Smittyc
Jul 5, 2015
Having been to 13 of the listed 4th of July cities for the celebration, I couldn't disagree more with your rankings! Last night in Philadelphia was by far and long the best national birthday party in terms of free live music featuring The Roots, Miguel and Celo Green. Heck, even the mayor, Michael Nutter performed some old school rap pretty well I may add. There was zero violence, zero arrests, nice weather, awesome food reasonably read more
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