Rain drenches Esplanade, forces evacuation ahead of concert

Jane Green of New Castle, England, and her friends enjoyed the Fourth of July celebration at the Hatch Shell.
Jane Green of New Castle, England, and her friends enjoyed the Fourth of July celebration at the Hatch Shell.TAMIR KALIFA FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Mother Nature put a wrinkle into the Fourth of July festivities along the Esplanade on Wednesday night when lightning struck an hour before the scheduled start of the fireworks.

Around 9:30 p.m., the State Police halted the Hatch Shell concert and evacuated the Esplanade, ushering revelers into the Storrow Drive tunnels to wait out the storm, a spokesman said.

As the skies threatened to open up, spectators on the bridges along the route said they, too, were asked to seek shelter.

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Authorities announced shortly after 10 p.m. that the show was resuming.

The storm that threatened the celebration after dark was far from the minds of the crowd earlier in the evening.

As dusk settled over Boston, the Esplanade was in full swing Wednesday evening, with hundreds of thousands of revelers enjoying live music from the Boston Pops, along with Jennifer Hudson and the Dropkick Murphys.

Diehards trekked in from the suburbs, armed with coolers and lawn chairs, but the visitors also included many out-of-staters. Among them was Jason Fulmer, 41, of Orlando, who made a special trip for the festivities.

He said he has always wanted to attend the celebration and decided at the last minute to make the journey, arriving Tuesday night.

“No other city does it this big,” Fulmer said. “It’s hard to even believe that all of these people came out and came together to celebrate our country.”

Sisters Lisa Bowling, 45, of Kentucky, and Trish Bryant, 52, of Florida, came to pay tribute to their brother, a soldier in the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division who was killed in 2000.

“It’s about remembering our freedom,” Bowling said. “But today, it’s really about remembering him.”

Bryant said she was also excited about the concert.

“I’m most excited to see my love — the Boston Pops,” she said.

Much of the Esplanade was a sea of red, white, and blue, with revelers dressed in patriotic garb and face paint, while service members donned their uniforms.

“I like dressing up and seeing everyone else being patriotic, too,” said Whitney Thomas of Ipswich, who wore a ball cap covered in red sequins, a homemade American flag shirt, and stars and stripes face paint.

About an hour before the musical program was set to start, some in the crowd were batting around beach balls and partying in American flag bikinis.

Stephen Wood and his daughter, Emma, 14, were continuing a tradition of celebrating Emma’s birthday on the Esplanade, a rite that began when she was 5.

“It’s really exciting sharing my birthday with the country,” Emma said. “I love coming so much. It’s definitely my favorite family tradition.”

Her father said it is always gratifying to see Emma enjoying the fun.

“As a dad you love her getting to be the star of the show,” he said. “It’s also really a great family time leaving all the distractions and electronics at home.”

They were not the only ones celebrating a birthday.

Kathy Rusin and her husband, Henry Wojciechowski, said they drove up from Pennsylvania to celebrate her 56th birthday.

“We’ve watched this celebration on TV every year for at least 15 years,” Rusin said. “This Christmas, my husband surprised me with this as my Christmas and birthday present.”

She recalled opening a giant box with a bow and finding an itinerary, a hotel booking, and a Boston Pops flier inside.

“I just said it casually, oh, about 100 times, ‘someday we’re going to Boston for the Fourth,’ ” said Rusin. “I just can’t believe we’re here. The people are so nice.”

Joe Laythe, 19, of Boston, brought an exotic pet to the festivities — a yellow-tailed python named Jafar.

“He’s quite the celebrity today,” Laythe said as children posed for pictures with Jafar. “He loves the lights of the fireworks. But not so much the sounds.”

There were plenty of sounds in the evening when the music started, often accompanied by flashing lights as many in the audience waved American flags.

Last year, the production team created controversy when it used images of the State House, Quincy Market, and Fenway Park as backdrops to the fireworks display. This year, they vowed to forgo the pictures after coming under scrutiny.

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