As those who visit here frequently likely already know, my parents are on a quest to visit an always growing “Bucket List” of destinations and experiences. Most of their items are here in the US of A. They love National Parks, outdoor beauty, good musicals, cheap flights, cold Coca Cola, Las Vegas, and darn near anything patriotic. My dad in particular is Mr. Patriotic, and as such being in Washington DC for the 4th of July fireworks and festivities was a “must do” at least once for him. This was the year we made it happen, and here are his words about the day.
Oh, and in case you are curious, they flew on United saver awards for 25k each, stayed in cheap rooms at the Grand Hyatt Washington thanks to Travel Pony, then stayed on SPG points at the W Washington DC for a couple nights, including on July 4th.
We are flag a waving son and daughter of the USA, and consequently July 4th is always an important holiday around our house. In recent years, our celebration would include decorating our home about a week before Independence Day, attending a patriotic concert on July 3rd and providing our house and our neighborhood with appropriate music all day on the 4th while wearing our best stars and stripes apparel.
A neighbor’s party usually would fill the afternoon and early evening, but a significant part of our annual tradition would be to watch the televised broadcasts of the Washington, Boston, New York and Houston fireworks shows from the comfort of our living room and in vibrant color and in high definition. This pattern of activity held true through July 4th of 2013. It was on that date with the visual images of bombs bursting in air still fresh on our mind that we decided that this year, on July 4th, 2014, we would be in DC to personally witness the extravaganza.
And so, the journey from our couch to the capitol steps was born. I must admit I was somewhat leery as the departure date got closer and I realized we were going to be gone when the biggest Publisher’s Clearing House Forever Prize was being awarded. How would they find us if we weren’t at home to open the door and yell OMG, OMG! We decided not to worry and take our chances that they would find us in DC and most likely as we exited from our White House tour. Yes, that White House. It would be a great visual, right?
Or, using the latest media hip word, it would be great OPTICS with The Prize Patrol wagon right there on Pennsylvania Avenue. Maybe The President could photobomb our picture when we received our check. I guess if he did it would be a photobama. Well, we looked for the balloons, the check and the smiling presenters. However, there was no celebration in sight. I knew right then that we should have ordered one of their magazines or bought that set of four multi-colored LED camp lights. A lesson well learned. Anyway, back to the trip report.
This short travel guide will only cover the Capitol Fourth Concert and Fireworks and our impressions and suggestions. We were in uncharted waters and had no concrete guidelines as how to best achieve our goal of attending the anchor of D.C.’s July 4th events. Would we be able to experience the entertainment and the fireworks both? Would it be uncomfortably and overwhelmingly crowded? How early would you need to go? Questions. We had questions.
The concert start time was 8PM and the gates to The Capitol grounds opened at 3PM. We decided to enter the west lawn of The Capitol at about 3:45. Due to our questioning state, we thought it would be better to err on the side of caution rather than risk failure. Everyone had to go through the security checkpoints but there were about 12 separate entry lines at each of the 2 entrances so the process was quite efficient. The only items that were not allowed were the obvious ones plus alcoholic beverages and fireworks. Food, drinks, coolers, backpacks, blankets, umbrellas, portable electronics, folding chairs and patriotic spirit were checked but were allowed and welcomed. There are no concessions available on site, so you do need to bring them in.
Our entry was uneventful and we proceeded to claim our territory. At that early hour, there was still some space on the lawn in front of the fantastically and appropriately decorated stage but we opted for the steps of the Capitol. The 12th and 13th row by the rail, to be exact. Surely, you saw us.
We had heard that if you could see the Washington Monument then you would be able to best see the fireworks. Our seats gave us that prescribed and proper view. I would guess that the steps were full by 5PM as an officer starting stamping hands around that time to identify the squatters and their rights. This was done in each area to prevent over crowding and for crowd control. Everyone in our section seemed to have an adequate amount of comfortable space in which to sit and to take their obligatory, ubiquitous, cute, and happy selfies. There was also sufficient area on both flanks of the west lawn to handle everyone who came in. And there was shade there.
The crowd kept filing in all evening so those arriving even at the last minute could share in the sights and sounds. The weather in DC for the 4th was spectacular. It was more like September than July with the high temperature being around 80. It is a good thing as we were all sitting ducks in the afternoon sun. Had the temp been in the mid 90s we would have been roasted ducks. As it was, we still had a red, white and who knew you needed an SPG 250 kind of afternoon.
By the time the concert began, the sun had dropped low enough in the sky to provide physical and visual relief. To enhance the viewing of the show, the stage was flanked by medium size video boards and a large screen was hoisted above the stage by cranes just prior to showtime. Needless to say, the crowd was more than ready for action when the host Tom Bergeron introduced the program and the star performers. John Williams got the party started by conducting the orchestra with The Star Spangled Banner and a very fast paced show followed.
Sara Evans, Patti LaBelle, Jordin Sparks, Michael McDonald and Kermit and Miss Piggy were among the performers. These fine acts warmed up the already warmed up crowd for one of our personal favorites, the legendary headlining act of the alto/ falsetto voice of the now octogenarian Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The crowd joyfully sang and swayed to some of his greatest hits and that led directly into the cannon blasting 1812 Overture and the 20 minutes of impressive, bright, colorful, dynamic and fun fireworks over the Washington monument.
After the final rocket and its red glare had faded and the smoke had cleared and the music had stopped, I glanced up at the Capitol’s Dome and saw that the flag was still there. Francis Scott Key would have been proud, and so were we. We were like most members of Congress in that we hated to give up our seats at The Capitol, but we did and an orderly but appropriately crowded departure began. We had deliberately booked our hotel within walking distance so that travel on the busy metro could be avoided. Here is Mommy Points’ write up of staying at the W Washington DC on the 4th of July.
So, the end result of our grand experiment was that we were glad we did it. It is doable without too much stress or strife and is another remarkable experience we can store in our lock box of memories. We felt like we actively participated in a very special event rather than just being sofa spectators from a 1000 miles away.
If I were in charge though, (and just in case some Park Service personnel, or PBS employee or a member of the Capitol Police are Mommy Points followers and will read this), I would have some musical entertainment taking place prior to the official concert to help add to the overall enjoyment and to help occupy some of the dead time that is spent just waiting. There were many high school bands in the DC area for the parade that could be asked to play, or surely some aspiring artists would jump at the chance for any kind of exposure. You know, an American Idle that wants to be an American Idol. And if all else fails, just some good pre-recorded patriotic music would do just fine. As always, it is just my opinion and suggestion.
And in that personal vein, I would trade in Kermit and Miss Piggy for another K & P as in maybe a Katy Perry. No offense intended to The Muppets. It is just a generational thing with them and a gender sensational thing with Miss Perry. In addition, while Miss Piggy has a big ego, Miss Perry has big…uh, …big…uh,……..eyes. And lest we forget, Miss Perry has something significant in common with the USA. She and our great country both ended their no longer tolerable British relationships. One with a divorce and the other with a Declaration.
And as some final thoughts, while I will always look forward to tomorrow and the next adventure, there is the fact that at least 80% of my life is now in the rear view mirror, so it is unlikely I will be back in DC for another July 4th. It is beginning to be simple mathematics and probabilities and other venues that still need to be experienced. But if I am, I would probably go to the dress rehearsal for the concert on July 3rd and park myself on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial for the fireworks. There you would have the dark eastern sky, the Washington monument and the Capitol as the background for the aerial pyrotechnics and you would have the reflecting pond in the foreground. Sounds like a good visual recipe to the photographer in me and a moving experience for the patriot in me.
This trip to DC proved to be very enriching even without The Publishers Clearing House Prize. Well, maybe not quite as much, but a great journey nonetheless. USA! USA!
Happy traveling to all and a tip of the hat to DC for a job well done.