The 4th of July is a magical time in Philadelphia.
Just ask Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of the Roots, which will once again be the house band for the annual Wawa Welcome America! main concert July 4 on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
“It’s not a Roots event until we sneak a few rabbits out of the hat that Philly doesn’t know about,” Questlove says. “No one knew about Lauryn Hill last year or about Boyz II Men the year before. I kind of like that surprise element so we have a lot of surprises and a lot of walk ons that we haven’t announced. We’re trying to put on the world’s greatest variety show and hopefully make it a tradition.”
The announced guests are pretty impressive, too, with Ne-Yo, Jill Scott, John Mayer, Demi Lovato, Ben Taylor, J. Cole and Grace Potter on board this year. North Philly funnyman Kevin Hart is the host.
“There’s going to be a lot of work involved from our end but when you love your work and love what you do, it’s a lot of fun,” says Roots keyboardist James Poyser.
More than 1 million are expected at the free concert. It’s the midpoint of a very big year for the Roots, which saw them named as the house band for the upcoming “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” starting in February next year. Locally, the guys also had their own mural unveiled at the World Communications Charter School at Broad and South streets in the spring and they just announced an album collaboration with Elvis Costello, due out in the fall.
“One day when he was a guest on the Fallon show and it was the third successful collaboration between the Roots and Elvis, I said, ‘OK, let’s make this official, let’s get married,’” Questlove says. “The album is called ‘Wise Up Ghost.’”
Drumming is not Questlove’s only skill. He’s just released a memoir, “Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove,” and is writing the text for a coffee table book on “Soul Train,” he says.
As for the July 4th show, it culminates with a fireworks display over the art museum.
“They’re not only Philadelphia’s house band, the Roots is the world’s house band,” says Mayor Michael Nutter.
If you go
Wawa Welcome America! concert feat. the Roots, Ne-Yo, Jill Scott, John Mayer, Demi Lovato, Ben Taylor, J. Cole and Grace Potter
Hosted by Kevin Hart
Thursday, July 4, 7-11 p.m.
Ben Franklin Pkwy, 20th Street to Eakins Oval
Other Welcome America! events include:
“Silver Linings Playbook” will be shown Monday at 9 p.m. at Rittenhouse Square and “Rocky” will be shown Tuesday at 9 p.m.
The National Constitution Center offers free admission all day Tuesday.
Wawa will distribute four tons of free hoagies at the Independence Visitor Center Lawn on Market Street between Fifth and Sixth streets from noon to 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
Peter Nero and Philly Pops! perform a free concert at Independence Hall on Wednesday at 8 p.m.
The Party on the Parkway is Thursday (July 4!) from noon to 7 p.m. on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The Taste of Philly is Friday through Sunday at Penn’s Landing.