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In Boston, this year has been anything but routine after the tragic bombing at the marathon and the chaotic manhunt that all but shut the city down. But tonight, the show will go on. For the 40th year, the Boston Pops will carry on their July 4th tradition performing along the Charles River, as fireworks burst overhead. There will be heavy security, and while the music and fireworks will be familiar - in a way, even reassuring - the scene and mood are different this year.

Here's NPR's Tovia Smith.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: It's in the back of many people's minds that today's Fourth of July celebration was apparently the original target, before police say the Boston Bombers decided to attack the marathon instead.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)

SMITH: With a half-a-million people expected at today's festivities, authorities are taking no chances.

JILL AMMERMAN: Could we go sit over there in the shade, and just sit there?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You can't sit over there, ma'am. That's all closed off. It's all a secured area.

SMITH: Jill Ammerman from Boston showed up to find a slew police and barricades, keeping her from her usual spot along the river.

AMMERMAN: Last year, we were able to sit on the grass over there. This year, they're going to keep you across the street.

TC JONES: Major, major, major difference.

SMITH: TC Jones, who's come to the Boston Esplanade concert from Virginia for 20 years, was also surprised by the heavy police presence, even yesterday.

JONES: You saw state police. You saw feds. You saw the Guard. You saw a dive teams, park police - I mean, everybody and his brother. So I think terrible. You know, it puts a little damper on things. But I can't say as I really have a better solution.

SMITH: Police call it common sense. They've increased the number of surveillance cameras on site, quote, "exponentially." And they've put up barricades, allowing only three checkpoints in to the concert area.

Boston Police Chief Ed Davis says there is no specific threat to the celebration, but security must be tightened.

CHIEF ED DAVIS: We have a threat that manifested itself on April 15th, and we're going to take that to heart. And we don't want to be intrusive. But, I mean, as the threat evolves, our response has to evolve.

SMITH: That means adjusting picnic plans big time. No more big coolers on wheels, no more backpacks, no more cans, or big jugs of cocktails, only clear liquids in clear bottles and food in clear bags.

SUE ZINGER: We're not going to be able to get in.

SMITH: Sue Zinger showed up at the river for yesterday's pre-concert festivities with her usual: coolers, drinks and big bags full of lunch and dinner.

ZINGER: We have a number of items that don't meet the eligibility to get in.

SMITH: Could you ditch the cooler?

ZINGER: We did already. That's a new cooler we bought this morning.

(LAUGHTER)

ZINGER: We switched everything, and we threw the old cooler out. And then even this cooler isn't acceptable.

SMITH: If the extra security is inconvenient, it can also be both comforting and unsettling. Boston College student Mirko Kruse finds it a sobering reminder in the midst of all the festivities.

MIRKO KRUSE: You have glory of the fireworks, and then you have police. You have all this security. And it makes you think back to incidents of the marathon, but I wouldn't call it a total buzz-kill. It's still the Fourth of July, and you just have to celebrate it.

MARY ANN ROLLINGS: Come on it. Yeah.

GLORIA KELLEY: Fun, fun, fun in Boston.

LINDA LEE STACEY: Happy Birthday, America.

SMITH: Indeed, Mary Ann Rollings, Gloria Kelley and Linda Lee Stacey - all in their 60s and 70s - came to the Esplanade decked out in their usual red, white and blue T-shirts, knee socks, wigs, hats and glasses, looking for their regular spot.

ROLLINGS: One of those trees is mine.

(LAUGHTER)

ROLLINGS: Got my name on it, seriously.

(LAUGHTER)

ROLLINGS: I come back at 6:30 in the morning to do that spot.

SMITH: Anything for their beloved Boston Pops and its beloved conductor.

ROLLINGS: Ooh, yeah. Yes, he is.

KELLEY: Keith Lockhart, oh my.

STACEY: Nice.

KELLEY: That's her boyfriend.

STACEY: Nice.

ROLLINGS: He's my boyfriend.

(LAUGHTER)

ROLLINGS: Amen to that.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: It is sad, they say, to see so many new restrictions on the national holiday celebrating American freedom. But, says Rollings...

ROLLINGS: You know what? Freedom isn't free.

KELLEY: That's right.

ROLLINGS: And our soldiers are over there sacrificing their lives for us. So we can do a little sacrificing ourselves by not bringing as much paraphernalia that we don't need.

SMITH: Authorities say expect this to be the norm. The many new cameras installed on the Esplanade are portable, and no one should be surprised to see them at the next big event: a football game this fall or the Boston Marathon next spring.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Have a wonderful Fourth of July. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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