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Afterglow on the Esplanade

Easygoing crowd enjoys Fourth's music, fireworks

There were the ''silver brocade waterfalls" from Japan, the Chinese ''peachblow rainbow," and the ''Kamuro rays" from Spain.

Of the 10,000 shells and other devices that lit up the Charles River for nearly a half hour last night, Allie Wargo liked the one that looked like a dandelion the best.

''It took up the whole sky -- it was very overwhelming," said Wargo, 18, of Fleetwood, Pa. ''I really like when the whole water lights up. I thought it was excellent."

Maybe it was the cool breeze, Mother Nature putting on her Sunday best. But the 31st annual Fourth of July bash at the Esplanade seemed more mellow than in previous years. Officials said they had expected 600,000 people, but as of 11 p.m., they estimated there had been about 450,000 people along the Charles, about 200,000 fewer than last year.

''With all the turmoil in the world and thinking about . . . my family members who have served, I wish the whole world could be peaceful like this is tonight," said Julia Hall, 60, visiting from Arkadelphia, Ark.

By 11 p.m., paramedics had treated more than 357 patients for minor injuries and transported 17 people to nearby hospitals.

''It's been a good night," said Richard Serino, chief of Boston Emergency Medical Service, who had paramedics on bikes, boats, all-terrain vehicles, and at seven medical stations around the Esplanade. ''There were fewer injuries than last year. The good weather helped a lot."

Some who sat along the Cambridge side of the Charles complained about the absence of speakers there this year.

''Hopefully, someone near us will have a radio," said Jill Childress, 28, of Leominster. ''It's a little disappointing."

Increased security measures ended the annual mad dash for premium spots around the Hatch Shell, making the event more peaceful, said some who had lined up at dawn's early light for the Boston Pops concert, which featured former Van Halen front man David Lee Roth. Before entering the oval patch of grass, they had to wait politely behind security gates as officials checked bags and issued orange bracelets.

The old run for spots ''got very tense and stressful," said Harriet Sesen of Brookline. She had prime real estate near the stage yesterday, under six tents with about 70 longtime concert-going friends calling themselves the ''Red-White-and-Blue Crew."

The run of past years was tough, said friend Gayle Willman, of Swampscott. Everyone had to wait for a signal. Then, they scrambled for the front. ''It was such an adversarial thing between the people and the police."

The throngs of visitors to the Esplanade came with blankets, tents, umbrellas, and beach towels. In the morning, some left their possessions behind for the flag-raising at City Hall. Others went to see the USS Constitution turn-around in the waters off the Charlestown Navy Yard.

Donna Borges, 50, and her husband planned to leave their cooler full of shrimp at their waterfront spot while they kicked around the city. ''Nobody takes anything," said Borges, her hair covered with red-and-white gel.

Some concertgoers' markers were confiscated at the gates: One person tried to bring in plastic landscaping fences, said Chuck Kabat, event spokesman. Another tried to smuggle in a bag of rocks, apparently to protect his space.

Other contraband snatched by security guards filled boxes near the gate, including about a dozen knitting needles, a wrench, a screwdriver, vise grips, a pair of scissors, wine, and several six-packs of Busch Light beer. No alcohol, sharp objects or glass bottles were allowed.

One person tried to get a pet pit bull terrier into the Pops' rehearsal concert Saturday night, Kabat said. And it was not a seeing-eye pit bull. ''Can you believe it?" he asked.

Contraband aside, people behaved themselves. There were no arrests by midafternoon yesterday, police said. ''It's a very peaceful crowd," State Police Sergeant Scott Range said.

The Red-White-and-Blue Crew had few complaints. The group, some of whom have attended the annual celebration since it began 30 years ago, passed the day playing cribbage, eating, and napping in folding chairs under a battery-operated ceiling fan.

Over the years, they had all met here. They stay in touch via e-mail and even have matching T-shirts and badges. They come from all over the country and hang their state flags on the front fence, in order of admittance to the union: Flags for Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, Ohio, and Idaho were hanging yesterday. A ''Support Our Troops" flag hung at the end.

Group members from New Hampshire and Connecticut were there yesterday, too. Past gatherings have drawn members from as far as Texas and Minnesota.

This year, the group invited about 100 soldiers and sailors stationed in the city to join them. They brought extra chairs and saved space, said Pat Kavanagh, of Gloucester, who warned those seated around them there would be an influx of soldiers right before the show. No one complained.

''It's patriotic," said Willman, who came with her four children. ''It's family. We've seen families grow up here."

Globe correspondents Emily Anthes and Robyn Jones contributed to this report.

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