A half million people were expected to fill Boston's Esplanade on this July Fourth -- as the city hosts its Independence Day event for the first time since before the coronavirus pandemic.
Preparations for the 2022 Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular were underway for days and things were coming together Monday.
Long before the Pops started playing, the spectators came running from all over, and this is something they train for -- anything to get a front row seat on the Fourth of July, especially after COVID cancelled this show the last two years.
"I mean, we've waited so long," said Lou Spelios, of Boston. "I was here since 3 a.m. to finally get here and get in the front row, this is worth it."
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For many, this celebration is a return to tradition after COVID cancelled this show the last two years.
"We've been doing this together for years and years. This is my 44th year doing this," said Reading resident John Bonaccoroso.
"I know I'm only 25, it's amazing," he jokingly added.
But for some it's a first.
"This is absolute bucket list," said Dennis Devilbiss, who came all the way from California.
"I rode a train for three days across the country, 74 hours to get to Boston to be where I want to be, I've wanted to ever since Arthur Fielder started this back in 1974," Devilbiss said.
Sam Schinker wouldn't miss it either. She comes almost every year from Ohio.
"This is where I need to be on the Fourth. This is where we should be on the Fourth," she said.
For Jess Johnston, it's a personal celebration, too -- it's her birthday and America's birthday.
"It's incredible I was born and they had fireworks for me," she said jokingly.
And for so many in Boston, this is a reunion.
"To be with the people you care about, you see them once a year, this is what we do, this is where we mingle, we find out what's going on with each other," said Bostonian Dion Brreden.
But along with all of the excitement Monday, there was also plenty of law enforcement, including military vehicles blocking streets, and state police boats in the water. But after so many pandemic disruptions, those out in Boston to celebrate hope nothing gets in the way of their joy.
Massachusetts State Police called it an all-hands-on-deck situation in terms of safety, one of the area’s marquee events.
Police said there is no credible threat to the public and law enforcement has been doing periodic sweeps. There will be uniformed and plain clothed officers around the Esplanade. K9 teams will be helping out as well as a marine unit enforcing boating laws.
"We will be prepared and you will see a strong and swift response if there is a group that engages in violence," State Police Col. Christopher Mason said.
Police are reminding spectators that alcohol, weapons, glass containers, backpacks and drones are not allowed at the event.
They also say be prepared -- there are fewer concessions and vendors than they’ve historically had, meaning attendees should plan to bring water and snacks for the long outdoor day.
It's the first Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular since 2019, and the lines to get in were long Monday morning before the gates outside the Hatch Memorial Shell opened to the public at noon.
The Boston Pops concert started at 8 p.m., and will be followed by fireworks at 10:30 p.m.
More on the Fourth of July
The man first in line was from Virginia and said he’s been coming to the event since 1994. He wouldn’t share what time he set up camp here on the esplanade, only saying he lives by three rules:
“You don’t talk about Bruno, you don’t talk about Fourth of July plans, and you don’t talk about fight club. We’ve got plans and so far it works!” TC Jones IV said.
“This is the Fourth of July. There are a lot of Fourth of July celebrations but this is the Fourth of July,” he added.
For a lot of people at the start of the line this is a family tradition, and they couldn't wait to claim their spot, especially after the pandemic hiatus.
"Especially this first year I honestly didn’t know what to do. If this is what you do on the 4th of July and it doesn’t happen you don’t know what to do with yourself," Bonaccoroso said.
Event organizers strongly encouraged traveling light and using public transit, as many of the roads around the Esplanade are closed.
The lineup Monday night features queen of funk Chaka Khan, Tony and Grammy Award winner Heather Headley, "The Voice" winner Javier Colon, plus the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the Middlsex County Fife and Drum Corps, and, of course, the Boston Pops Orchestra, along with conductor Keith Lockhart.
NBC10 Boston had a chance to catch up with Lockhart ahead of his performance Monday, and he talked about how difficult it's been to not be able to carry out this tradition in Boston these last couple of years.
"It's been a tough couple of years in the performing arts for all of us who make our livings and our lives are about performing for groups of people," he said. "There was a period of time where I didn't do a public performance for about a year and a half, very painful."
Towards the end of the show Monday night, Lockhart will perform Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" in sync with the cannon blasts and 5,000 fireworks that will go off for 20 splendid minutes over the Charles River.