Rightfully plugged as one of the nations' best displays, Boston's evening fireworks spectacular along the Charles River might grab all of the state's major July 4 headlines.
But for those wondering which Massachusetts community takes the prize for all-out Independence Day bashes, a little drive through Wakefield Center on July 2 should be quite informative.
By that point, the hundreds if not thousands of carefully placed chairs lining Main Street and the edges of the community's picturesque Lake Quannapowitt streetscapes will reveal the truth of Wakefield's legendary Fourth of July festivities.
According to Brian Fox, who chair's Wakefield's Independence Day Committee, by the time the sun sets next Thursday night, some 70,000 people will have likely spent a some portion of the national holiday in his hometown of roughly 25,000, which is home to one of the nation's largest Fourth of July parades.
With the town also boasting one of the best fireworks shows outside of Boston, where some $50,000 in pyrotechnics are detonated over the still waters of Lake Quannapowitt, it's no surprise that ultra-excited spectators begin carving out their observation spots days early each year.
"We always take bets on when we'll see the chairs start appearing. Last year, I think it happened right around July 2. I think people see that some are already out and end-up going home and panicking," said Fox of the now decades-old tradition of setting space-savers around Wakefield Center's 1.5-mile-long parade route.
"It's part of this excitement that builds up for the parade, because we usually have between 50,000 to 70,000 people. It's a real family-friendly day. There's something for everyone," added Fox, who has been involving with organized the privately-funded Independence Day activities since 2014.
Attracting some of the country's best marching and drumline bands, Wakefield's annual Fourth of July parade is recognized as the largest such procession in Massachusetts and the second largest in New England.
Also featuring a varied mix of street performers — think clowns, jugglers, and costumed stilt-walkers and cycle-riders — dozens of businesses and non-profit groups also partake in the march by riding in antique cars and floats.
According to Fox, next week, some 20 marching bands, coming from as far as Pennsylvania and Montreal, Canada will participate in the festivities alongside at least 15 Hollywood-themed floats and superhero-costumed performers. In total, the parade will include an estimated 2,000 participants, all of whom this year will pay homage to American Heroes in light of the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied Normandy, France in 1944.
Beginning at 5 p.m., the procession will begin the 1.5-mile route from the shores of Lake Quannapowitt by the Reading line and march down North Street. They will then turn onto Church Street before trekking through the heart of downtown Wakefield on Main Street towards the Galvin Middle School.
According to Fox and fellow Wakefield Independence Day Committee member Amy Braid, the parade description only tells part of the story around the community's Independence Day party prowess, as the town's West Side Social Club sponsors a full-slate of family-friendly activities that begin at 7 a.m. and conclude with the highly-regarded fireworks display that fitfully wraps up the festivities beginning at 9:30 p.m.
Some of the pre-parade activities, to take place at the Wakefield Common, include a fishing derby, pet parade, and various races for children's and toddlers.
"You could easily spend your entire day in Wakefield with something to do between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. It's a real family-friendly day. There's something for everyone," boasted Fox. "By the time the fireworks are lit, I've heard that there are as many as 100,000 people in town. Cars have been known to pull over on Route 128 for the fireworks because they're so great."
"If you have kids, the morning events on the common are a lot of fun," Braid commented in a separate interview. "You can come and hang out all day. It's definitely a lot of fun."
Full slate of events
Those planning on attending Wakefield's Independence Day celebrations are advised to pay attention to various road closures and detours around Wakefield Center, particularly around the parade route. Because large crowds are expected, Fox and Braid recommend visitors plan on arriving early in order to find parking, which can become sparse as the 5 p.m. start of the parade draws near.
Police and public works officials will reportedly begin closing off major parade route streets between 3 and 3:30 p.m.
"It's funny, but it always works out," said Fox, who urged potential first-time visitors not to be discouraged from attending the celebrations due to parking concerns. "A lot of streets do become one-ways or do-not-enters, but neighbors are used to it. I'm not sure where everyone goes, but it seems to work. It's pretty impressive."
The full schedule of combined events for next Thursday's celebrations, including registration and location information, is as follows:
• 7:30 - 10:30 a.m. | Children's Fishing Derby
Ages 2-14 years (under 12 must be must be accompanied by an adult.) Registration begins at 7 a.m. at the Lower Common.
• 8:30 a.m. | Pet Show
Registration begins at 8 a.m. at the Upper Common.
• 9 a.m. | Cart, Tricycle, and Scooter Parade
Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Upper Common.
• 10 a.m. | Doll Carriage Parade
Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. at the Upper Common.
• 11 a.m. | Bicycle Parade
Registration begins at 10:30 a.m. at the Upper Common.
• 12 p.m. | Races
The Lower Common will host the Diaper Derby (crawling race), Children’s Races (toddlers to 12 years), and Adult Races.
• 1 p.m. | Canoe and Kayak Races
Water races start at the head of the Lake and continue to the Lower Common. Participants under 18 years of age must be must be accompanied an adult.
• 3:30 p.m. | Roads begin closing for the parade
• 5 – 7 p.m. | The 74th Wakefield Fourth of July Parade
The route begins at the Lakeside Office Park on North Ave. It turns onto Church Street, onto Common Street, and ends at the Galvin Middle School on Main Street.
• 6:30 p.m. | Buckley Brothers Band
Meet at the bandstand for music and to honor career Wakefield educator Beverly Elcewicz.
• 9:30 p.m. | Fireworks
An annual tradition by the Lake.
Expected to cost a combined $130,000 to $140,000 this year, Wakefield's Fourth of July Committee and West Side Social Club foots the bill for the entire day of events, absent the town's donation of public safety manpower.
According to Fox, because both non-profit groups rely upon the generosity of the local businesses and citizens to defray those growing costs, they are asking guests for small donations.
"If everybody who attended the parade each year put $1 in our buckets, the entire parade would be funded for next year," said the parade group chairman. "There's this misconception that the town pays for the parade each year, and there's no question that the town is very generous. They pay for the police, and fire department, and DPW details every year. But the rest of it is on us, and it's all done by volunteers."
Those looking for more information about the parade committee or West Side Social Club are encouraged to visit their respective webpages at https://www.julyparade.org/ and https://www.westsidesocialclub.org/. Each organization also has a social media presence of Facebook.