President John Adams, as portrayed by Peyton Dixon, spoke at the announcement of the Red, White, & Blue To-Do at the National Constitution Center, April 29, 2024. (Courtesy Historic Philadelphia Inc.)

A brand-new family-oriented patriotic celebration with a parade, free concerts, restaurant deals and extended museum hours is coming to Old City this year — just a couple days before Philly’s traditional Independence Day festivities.

The neighborhood’s cultural and tourist organizations have banded together to create what they’re calling the inaugural Red, White & Blue To-Do Pomp & Parade on July 2.

They plan to turn the festival into an annual event and make it part of the nation’s 250th birthday, or Semiquincentennial, which is expected to draw millions of visitors to Philly in 2026.

Why July 2?

It’s not because — or at least, not just because — the timing makes it convenient for out-of-towners to spend a couple extra days, and a few extra dollars, on their independence-themed visits to Philadelphia.

As future president John Adams explained back in 1776, it’s because July 2 was arguably the real independence day — and the one that he thought should be celebrated every year.

“Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations”

At an event at the National Constitution Center on Monday, an actor impersonating Adams pointed out that July 2, 1776 was the day the Second Continental Congress voted, in Independence Hall, to declare the colonies’ freedom from Great Britain.

(It then took a couple days for the Congress to edit and approve the Declaration of Independence on July 4, and send it to a printer.)

Clad in a colonial wig and attire, impersonator Peyton Dixon read from a letter that the real Adams sent his wife Abigail the day after the vote, extolling the monumental step Congress took on July 2.

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival,” Dixon/Adams read. “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade with shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

The plans for the new celebration don’t mention guns or bonfires, but the organizers promised a fun time, especially for children and families who take part in the parade.

From June 29 to July 1, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., supplies will be on hand at several Historic District attractions for visitors to “decorate” themselves for the celebration, organizers said. At the National Constitution Center they can also decorate red toy wagons that will be pulled through the streets during the parade.

“Visitors and residents can help turn simple wagons into ‘pomp and parade’ floats,” said Amy Needle, president and CEO of Historic Philadelphia, Inc., the nonprofit that operates Betsy Ross House and other attractions. “They're going to look fabulous.”

“Decoration stations will allow visitors to festoon themselves to march in the parade,” Needle said, “and of course the district itself will be also festooned with banners, balloons and begonias.”

Mad Beatz and Bomberos

The schedule of activities on July 2 will begin with flag raisings, games, and a 9 a.m. Children’s Naturalization Ceremony at the Betsy Ross House.

The parade will kick off at the National Constitution Center at 11 am., travel along Independence Mall, and end at Carpenter’s Hall, which will host a 250th anniversary event as part of the city’s broader Welcome America celebration. (Those who want to march in the parade will need to register in advance.)

An Independence Barbeque will follow, with lunch specials at Old City restaurants, along with a series of musical performances that “represent the city’s diverse communities.” They’ll take place at Arch Street Meeting House, the African American Museum, National Liberty Museum, and Elfreth’s Alley.

Mad Beatz Philly, a hip-hop-inspired drumline, performed outside the National Constitution Center on April 29, 2024.

The performers will include the following groups, with more to be announced:

● Mad Beatz Philly, a hip-hop-inspired drumline that briefly performed at Monday’s announcement event.
● Callahan, McComiskey & Kelly
● Los Bomberos de la Calle
● Rubble City String Band
● A klezmer band, Dan Blacksberg’s Freilach Music

Sixteen museums, cultural institutions, and other attractions are participating in the event, and area restaurants will offer food and drink specials. Details and updates will be posted at the Philadelphia Visitor Center’s Red, White & Blue To-Do page.

Looking ahead to 2026

Organizers described the event as an effort to draw more visitors to Old City’s businesses and historic attractions.

“The Red, White, & and Blue To-Do will showcase the rich diversity of our city's 250-year history through a proud and joyful collaboration among the many museums, historic sites, and other attractions in Philadelphia's Historic District, showcasing our unique significance in the nation's founding,” said Vince Stango, the National Constitution Center’s COO and executive vice president.

Other speakers at the Monday announcement included Steve Sims, superintendent of Independence National Historical Park; Visit Philadelphia CEO Angela Val; Jazelle Jones, the City Representative and the city’s director of special events; and Michael Newmuis, the city’s 2026 Director in the mayor’s office.

Needle said the Philadelphia Funder Collaborative for the Semiquincentennial provided some initial funding to organize the new July 2 events.

The collaboration was formed last year by the William Penn Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Neubauer Family Foundation, and the Connelly Foundation, and is providing $9 million to distribute to nonprofits with plans for Semiquincentennial projects in 2026.

In addition to activities being planned by local and national semiquincentennial organizations, 2026 will bring several other major events to Philadelphia and the region, including soccer’s World Cup, Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, the PGA Championship in Newtown Square, and a packed lineup of bookings at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Meir Rinde is an investigative reporter at Thetelegraphfield covering topics ranging from politics and government to history and pop culture. He’s previously written for PlanPhilly, Shelterforce, NJ Spotlight,...