Going into 1974, organizers decided it would be a good idea to add howitzer cannons, church bells and fireworks to the playing of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
Pops Conductor Arthur Fiedler suggested, “All hell could break loose.” Little did he know…
Four decades later, the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular draws about a half-million people to the banks of the Charles River. It’s an awesome experience, but it can also be a very long day and night if you aren’t fully prepared.
Here’s a guide for everything you need to know for the 2018 July 4th Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on the Esplanade.
In addition to the Boston Pops, led by Maestro Keith Lockhart, several big name performers will grace the Hatch Shell stage.
The all-female lineup includes Massachusetts’ own Rachel Platten, The Indigo Girls, Rhiannon Giddens, Rita Morena, and Natalie Cortez.
Check The Forecast
There’s an old saying in New England: If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes. In the summer, it can fluctuate like crazy. Temperatures can range anywhere from the 60s to the high 90s. Violent thunderstorms tend to pop up at a moment’s notice.
If you’re spending the day at the Esplanade, you’ll want to be dressed appropriately… which brings us to our next topic.
No shirt, no shoes… no one’s going to say anything. But, it can get very chilly at night, and a sweatshirt or jacket may be in order. Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat are all must-bring items. An umbrella or rain coat might be a smart move.
Wear Comfy Shoes
It doesn’t matter if you’re taking the ‘T’ or driving, you’re going to have to do some walking. Parking near the Esplanade is like trying to find a cold spring in the desert. Good luck! Event organizers highly recommend taking public transportation.
The two closest T-stations on the Boston side are Charles-MGH on the Red Line, and Arlington Street on the Green Line. The MBTA is open late as they have done in years past, and will be offering free rides home after 9:30 p.m. Bikes are not allowed on subway lines on July 4. They are also prohibited on inbound Commuter Rail trains from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. as well as on outbound trains after 4 p.m.
A whole mess of road closures make driving a daring decision. Lanes on Storrow Drive start closing on July 3. If you are willing to take that risk (and don’t mind sitting in hours of gridlock after the show), it’s suggested that you park at the 201 Stuart Street garage. Train or car, you will have to do some walking. Expect the minimum to be about a half-mile.
NOTE: Disability/handicap parking will be available at the Mass Eye & Ear parking lot, with a shuttle running to the Esplanade. Only vehicles with valid disability/handicap placards/plates will be allowed to access the parking lots. The shuttle stops running at 6 p.m., resuming after the fireworks.
WHAT ELSE TO BRING
For the last couple years, no backpacks have been allowed inside the Oval or on the Island. All personal items have to be carried in clear bags for easy inspection. Small purses are also allowed, but are subject to inspection.
FOOD – No coolers on wheels are allowed. So your perishables have to fit in a cooler than can be carried on a shoulder strap or single handle. There are cash-only food concessions to help you fill in the blanks. If it’s hot, bring extra water. Liquids have to be carried in sealed clear plastic containers that can not exceed 2 liters in size. No pre-mixed beverages, glass containers or cans allowed. Paper plates, plastic ware (silverware is not permitted), and napkins are all optional as well. A small trash bag will come in handy.
FUN – If you’re spending the day, card games, books, Frisbee, sports equipment, etc. are all good to pass the time.
COMFORT – Sunscreen, bug spray, blankets (10×10 foot maximum), chairs (foldable or beach-style only). Pop-up tents/canopies are allowed during the day, but must be 10×10 or smaller and must come down at 6 pm. No canopies are allowed for the Rehearsal Concert on July 3.
THE SHOW – Camera & Binoculars… and maybe some earplugs for the little ones. Don’t forget your American flags!!
WHAT NOT TO BRING
Backpacks, shopping bags or similar-type containers; coolers on wheels, fireworks, grills, BBQ equipment, propane tanks and firearms are not permitted ANYWHERE on the Esplanade.
All personal items have to be carried in clear bags only for easy inspection.
Alcoholic beverages, glass containers, cans, pre-mixed beverages, tarps larger than 10’ X 10’ and sharp objects (e.g., knitting needles, metal tent spikes, can openers, metal utensils) will all be confiscated.
Pets are NOT allowed in the Oval.
No drones will be allowed in the area on July 3 or 4.
Bag checks are required for anyone entering the Oval, so don’t waste your time trying to sneak anything in.
After 4 pm, nothing is allowed through the security checkpoints except chairs, tarps or blankets that are 10’x10′ or smaller.
No bicycles are allowed through the checkpoints into the Oval or Island/Lagoon areas. Bicycles are allowed throughout the rest of the venue but must not be left unattended. Bicycles attached or locked to security fences, poles, or other structures may be subject to removal.
Review: Full List of banned items (.pdf)
WHERE TO WATCH AND WHEN TO GET THERE
Your arrival time depends on where you want to sit and what you want to see.
THE OVAL – As far as the concert goes, it’s the best seat in the house. The right side of the oval (facing the stage) is best for seeing the fireworks.
The gates open at 9 a.m. The line starts early and this area fills up quick. Everyone who is admitted into the Oval receives a wristband allowing access in and out of the secured area. Reserving large areas in the Oval is not allowed. The Oval Checkpoint will be located between the Lagoon’s Clarendon Footbridge and the Berkeley Footbridge. Access to the checkpoint can best be accomplished by accessing the Esplanade from Berkeley Street.
THE ISLAND / LAGOON The Island Lagoon is also a secured area. Access to the Island/Lagoon checkpoints can best be accomplished by using Beacon Street to Clarendon Street or utilizing the Dartmouth or Fairfield Street Footbridges over Storrow Drive. Checkpoints will be located at the Clarendon and Exeter Footbridges.
OUTSIDE THE OVAL AND LAGOON AND ALONG THE CHARLES RIVER – Speakers are set up along the Charles (Boston and Cambridge-side) so you’ll be able to listen to the concert even if you can’t see it. There are quite a few trees that can block your view of the fireworks show. Crowds close to the Oval typically swell by 4:30 pm and become impassable by 6:30 pm. Further down the river, most of the prime real estate typically gets scooped up before show time at 7:30 pm. If you’re savvy, you can still find spots without totally obstructed views before 8:30 pm.
THE BU BRIDGE – The Mass Ave. Bridge and Longfellow Bridges are OFF-LIMITS to the public.
MEMORIAL DRIVE/CAMBRIDGE-SIDE – Cambridge-side features speaker towers, food concessions and restrooms.
ON A BOAT – One way to beat the crowds is to park in the Charles River. Many boaters arrive early in the day and then stay overnight right on the river. The area between the barge and the Mass. Av. Bridge will be off-limits to boaters. The New Charles River Dam will close to up-river traffic beginning at 7:45 p.m on July 4 and does not re-open until 2 a.m.
Note: Fireworks produce smoke. Wind direction (or lack thereof) can adversely affect viewing at any of the above locations.
The Pops concert begins at 8:00 p.m.. The fireworks display goes from 10:30 p.m. to approximately 11 p.m. Check the full schedule here.
OTHER IMPORTANT INFORMATION
There are about 350 portable restrooms… for 500,000 people.
Avoid the bathroom after 6 pm. It gets crowded.
Bikes can be both a good and bad idea. When you get close, navigating the crowds with a bike can be a headache. On your way out though, once you break through the crowds, getting out of dodge is a breeze. Storrow Drive is closed down, so there’s plenty of room to ride. As noted, bikes are only allowed in non-secure areas, and cannot be left unattended, and can’t be attached or locked to fences, poles or other structures.
JULY 3RD ALTERNATIVE
If you just don’t want to deal with the crowds, but want to be there in person, the Boston Pops hold a rehearsal concert on July 3rd at 8:00 p.m.
The gates open at 5 p.m. About 50,000 people typically show up and there’s more room to mull around. The downside is there are no fireworks.