The nation's largest birthday party will begin in Philadelphia on Friday and continue through July 5. "Welcome America" is an 11-day celebration that encompasses the opening of the Pennsylvania Convention Center as well as America's birthday, July Fourth.
The center's opening event is set for Friday from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. "A Taste of Philadelphia" includes a buffet, a sound and light show with music by the Philadelphia Orchestra and a midnight concert by Mongo SantaMaria. Saturday morning, Vice President Gore will be in town for the ribbon-cutting at the new $523 million convention center.
Then the public can attend an open house at the center Saturday and Sunday and take in "Pennsylvania . . . Enjoy Our Past, Experience Our Future," showcasing the state's top attractions, historic sites, food and shopping along with continuous live musical entertainment. On the center's ground floor will be a giant fantasyland for children and their families, featuring the city's top family attractions. Both exhibitions are free.
The following week will feature free concerts; a hot-air balloon race; the opening of the expanded Please Touch Museum, the annual Hoagie Day celebration at City Hall with Chubby Checker; a Summer's Mummers Parade; and a "Cultural Night Out" featuring free admission to parkway museums, outdoor events and a laser show and the Market Street block party from City Hall to Ninth Street.
Dominating the second weekend will be the Freedom Festival, with such activities as a powerboat race on the Schuylkill River, outdoor concerts, an historic re-enactment at Fort Mifflin, a lighted boat parade and the three-day Liberty Festival at Penn's Landing.
President Clinton will arrive July 4 to present the 1993 Philadelphia Liberty Medal to F. W. de Klerk, South Africa's president, and to Nelson Mandela, president of the African National Congress. The ceremonies are scheduled for 4 p.m. at Independence Hall. Festivities conclude with a 9 p.m. concert on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art by the Philly Pops Orchestra and the Pointer Sisters and fireworks over the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. For information, call (215) 636-1666.
Gettysburg, Pa., will mark the 130th anniversary of its historic battle during Gettysburg Civil War Heritage Days from next Saturday through July 4.
A living history camp will be the main attraction next weekend. Some of the best volunteer re-enactment units in the country have been selected to take part in the program; historic accuracy is present down to the most minute detail, even stitching on the soldiers' uniforms. There will be demonstrations of Civil War infantry tactics, drills and soldier occupations and pastimes. The encampment will take place in Pitzer Woods off West Confederate Avenue from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.
The following weekend, two full-scale battle re-enactments are scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday four miles south of Gettysburg along Pumping Station Road, near the Eisenhower Farm. The site had been used in the filming of the TV miniseries "The Killer Angels." Saturday's event depicts the Battle of McPherson's Ridge; Sunday will see the restaging of Pickett's famous charge at Cemetery Ridge.
The site opens at 8 a.m. each day with displays, demonstrations and camp tours. Between 8,000 and 10,000 people from 42 states and three other nations will participate in the re-enactments. Reproductions of uniforms, weapons and handicrafts will be for sale, and food will be available. Tickets are $5 for adults; free for children under 12. Advance reservations are advised. Call (717) 334-6245.
Other activities during Civil War Heritage Days include lectures by some of the country's foremost historians, period band concerts, the annual collectors show, a Civil War book show, and the annual Firemen's Festival with nightly entertainment, games and rides. Call (717) 334-6274.
Kutztown Folk Festival
The Kutztown Folk Festival is probably one of the best-known folk festivals in the region. The 44th annual event opens next Saturday and runs through July 5 at festival grounds in Kutztown, Pa.
Sponsored by the Pennsylvania Folklife Society, the festival showcases the culture and traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Programs are offered each afternoon on the Seminar Stage that explain Dutch folk art, costumes, folk music, food and life among the Amish and Mennonite people. Two other stages feature polka bands.
Two hundred working craftspeople will demonstrate their skills, and there'll be farm animals, puppet shows, sheep shearing, glass blowing, a re-enactment of an Amish wedding and many other attractions. The 29th annual Quilting Contest has 1,600 entries, all priced for sale at under $500. Pennsylvania Dutch food will be plentiful.
Gates are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with many activities until 7 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults; $4 for children under 12. Parking costs $2. Call (800) 447-9269.