The ‘Wawa Welcome America!’ 4th of July festival consumes the city of Philadelphia for one week each year in a colossal fashion. Tourists and locals alike attend the festival's concert to celebrate America’s independence in festive and over-the-top fashion.
The city celebrates Independence Day with a full week of events, culminating in the 4th of July concert. Over the years, the event has hosted music legends such as Ray Charles, Patti LaBelle, Elton John, Madonna, and Earth, Wind & Fire, while also keeping the attention of a younger generation with performers like Demi Lovato and Kevin Hart.
The show is only one example of the many mega-concert series that have laid claim to urban centers across America in recent years. For millennials especially, music festivals have become extremely popular.The music festival industry has grown over a 15-year period despite perpetual music industry recession. Ironically, in a world where free music is easily accessible, audiences are willing to pay high ticket prices for music festivals and concerts.
California’s Coachella music festival, for example, was priced at $375 for a one-weekend general admission pass this year. GoldenVoice, the production company behind Coachella, has evidently not priced out of its market as tickets for the 2015 show sold out in 39 minutes. This sort of demand is what led the festival to a record year in 2014, grossing over $78 million in revenue.
The industry-defining success of Coachella has spawned the founding of many copycat festivals in regions across the country, which seek out a similar demographic. The fastest growing of these festivals, the Firefly Music Festival, occurred in Philadelphia’s neighbor, Delaware, in early June. Over 90,000 enthusiastic fans paid upwards of $300 to crowd the Dover International Speedway for four days of live performances.
Philadelphia’s own iteration of this trend, the Budweiser Made in America Festival, started in 2012 courtesy of Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter. Now in its fourth year, Made in America has achieved critical and financial success, with another strong show in store for early September. Amid the landscape of large production costs and massive profit, the ‘4th of July Jam’ stands apart for one simple reason; it’s free. The concert thrives even without revenue from ticket sales.
When asked why the city doesn’t charge for admission to the event, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said, “That’s just not our model. [The concert] is really a gift to the city.”
Quite the gift it is indeed; this year’s lineup includes Jennifer Nettles, Miguel, and the Roots. The show is part of a long term effort by the mayor to bring people to Philadelphia.
“We take the view that [the concert] is part of a brand that Philadelphia does big events well,” said Nutter.
It is an investment that has started to pay serious dividends. The city will host the Gold Cup Finals, the Made in America festival, and a visit from the Pope in the coming months. The show brings money to the city, while keeping the music and the viewers at the heart of all that it is.