America welcomes July 4 with hot dogs, cool music, cold beer

By The Associated Press

As the nation celebrates America's birthday, here are some Fourth of July highlights from around the country:

IN AMERICA'S BIRTHPLACE: CONCERTS, A PARADE AND BEER

Philadelphia started its Fourth of July celebration a little early.

The city's Liberty Block Party kicked off the festivities Friday near Independence Hall with music on three stages, treats from local food trucks and restaurants and a beer garden.

The Philly Pops performed patriotic tunes Friday night on the Independence Hall steps.

Saturday's events include a Celebration of Freedom ceremony, a parade through the city's historic district and a free concert and fireworks on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The Celebration of Freedom marks the 50th anniversary of a protest outside Independence Hall that would be a milestone in the fight for gay rights.

The concert features performances from Philadelphia's own The Roots, Miguel and Jennifer Nettles.

NOTHING SAYS AMERICA LIKE MAPLE AND BACON

Fireworks, parades and a $17.76 maple bacon cronut sundae on menu for Nevada's Fourth of July.

The Reno Philharmonic Orchestra sets the soundtrack for the "Red, White and Tahoe Blue" fireworks show in Lake Tahoe. And parades in Fernley, Virginia City and Ely and Boulder City's "Damboree Celebration," build up to the main event.

For the 321,000 visitors to Las Vegas, the Fourth of July show on the Strip is set for 9:15 p.m. at Caesars Palace. Hungry? On-site restaurant Serendipity 3 is selling a maple bacon cronut sundae for $17.76.

If virtual fireworks are more appealing, the downtown Fremont Street Experience's video canopy offers displays every hour starting at 8 p.m.

Off the Strip, shows at Red Rock Resort and Green Valley Ranch start at 9 p.m.

NATHAN'S HOT DOG EATING CONTEST

Contestants have hit the scales ahead of the annual July Fourth hot dog eating contest at New York's Coney Island.

Reigning champion Joey Chestnut joined past winners at the weigh-in Friday ahead of Nathan's Famous hot dog swallowing competition - a 99-year-old Independence Day boardwalk tradition.

The dogs will be served Saturday morning.

Chestnut tipped the scales at a hearty 230 pounds while Michelle Lesco ranked the lightest competitor at 112 pounds.

New Zealand native Nela Zisser, at 114 pounds, says she can out-eat her male counterparts. She previously won a pizza eating contest.

The event also featured a ceremonial stare down between the competitors.

More than 30,000 are expected to witness the feeding frenzy.

SOME TROOPS OVERSEAS GETTING PIZZAS AS HOLIDAY TREAT

Hot dogs and burgers may be on the menu for many Americans celebrating the Fourth of July, but for some troops serving overseas, a different treat awaits - pizza.

Pizzas4Patriots, an Elk Grove, Illinois-based group founded by a veteran, has arranged for 5,000 pies to be shipped to Afghanistan, and a thousand to Kuwait. Mark Evans, a retired Air Force master sergeant, says it's a way of giving back to service members.

Evans' group partners with businesses like Rich Products to make the pies and DHL to fly them. The pies are put on dry ice and driven to forward operating bases before being served.

Evans says Pizzas4Patriots has sent 150,000 pizzas to deployed troops for the Super Bowl and July Fourth over the past 8 years - roughly a million slices. He says they also deliver pizzas to veterans' hospitals across the U.S.

BOSTON POPS FEATURE 42ND SHOW

Boston gospel singer Michelle Brooks-Thompson will perform the national anthem as Keith Lockhart celebrates his 20th year as conductor for the annual Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on Saturday.

The star-studded event is held at the DCR Hatch Cell in the city's Back Bay off the Charles River Esplanade and will also feature Broadway star Michael Cavanaugh, "American Idol" finalist Melinda Doolittle and "America's Got Talent" finalist Sons of Serendip, a quartet who met at Boston University.

Drum and bugle corps the Boston Crusaders and the USO Show Troupe will also perform.

Events, which are televised and broadcast live in Boston, begin at 8 p.m. Fireworks start at 10:30 p.m.

Crowds came out Friday to listen to the performers rehearse.

This story has been corrected to show the Boston Pops concert is Saturday, but crowds turned out Friday to listen to the rehearsal.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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