It Was Somehow Impossible Not To Love The Downsized, Pawnee-Meets-Philly 4th Of July Jam

BY JOEY SWEENEY

Watching yesterday’s NBC10 broadcast of Philly’s annual 4th of July concert, it was hard not to feel some conflicting feelings. On one hand, you were clearly witnessing the emotional signature of the Kenney administration, who since his inauguration day event has wanted to go “block party” where Michael Nutter went “Coachella.” This was very much that. This was, if you will allow the Parks & Rec analogy, very Pawnee. On the other hand, it was truly a surprise that the downsized Kenney’s Wawa 4th of July Jam Jawn Super Psychedelic Hoagie Block Party might not have been a smashing success, but it was really and truly Philly and a real success if you could somehow forget the relatively epic scale of the last few years. And it couldn’t help but give you feelings. 

This much we know: The Roots, even on just a humanitarian level, needed a day off. Even as the Nutter Era Jam gave way/inspiration to the booking agent free-for-all of Made In America, you could feel it getting away from us. The 4th of July Jam was becoming more of a divider than a uniter, and that’s never a good look, even if the division is between your uncle from the Northeast who hates “that rap crap” and, well, everybody else. 

But Kenneystock® was the opposite of that. The stage, for one, was smaller, pushed all the way up to the Oval, and the bill was pretty much a straight up Gamble & Huff greatest hits, with a side of Leon Bridges. It was designed to please, it was designed very pointedly not to offend. And it sounded like a recipe for failure until the moment it happened. Bridges wasn’t the headliner, he was the opener; and as latter day versions of The Intruders, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and The O’Jays (I dare not google the actual original member count, I’m not looking for that kind of “satisfaction,” man) turned in their sets, well, I won’t lie to you. I was surfing in a sea of human emotion. It looked like plenty of others were, too. 

There were problems, of course. The weather, for one, ensuring that the overhead shot of the Oval looked like a visual representation of Philly voter turnout in a non-presidential election. And yeah, the groups were sometimes a little rough around the edges (though you could contend, like I do, that this only drove THE SEA OF HUMAN EMOTION to an even higher level). And then there was NBC10, broadcasting this year where ABC6 had since forever, and doing this weird thing where the broadcast portion of the concert ended at 8 (Philly Pops, you suck at life), then cutting to Macy’s fireworks in NYC for two hours, and then coming back to Philly fireworks at 10pm long after everyone was drunk and sleepy and had moved on to whatever they’d moved on to. All of this flying in the face of the central tenet of every Philly 4th of July Concert since the dawn of man: The concert only exists as a lead-up to the fireworks. There’s a press release in my box about why exactly this was, probably, but I am a grown-ass man and I do not need a press release from the city explaining what a bad idea is to me. I'm covered there.

Nevertheless, when Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes (I don’t know if that was the real Harold Melvin) played “Bad Luck,” I stood up in my living room and raised my getting-warmer-all-the-time can of High Life to the ceiling, with a little tear in my eye. 

It had been a long time since I’d felt this Philadelphian.