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Just because it’s Independence Day doesn’t mean you should be independent.

Think of the Fourth of July as one of the summer’s greatest free festivals: Wherever you are in Western New York, you merely have to step outside to catch an awesome fireworks show and join the celebration of our country’s 237rd birthday. But would our nation’s founders be proud to see you commemorating the occasion in your backyard, with a few hot dogs on a grill and some beers in a cooler? Probably not. This is the United States, after all, and on the USA’s b-day, it’s our duty to unite with our fellow Americans for fireworks.

There are dozens of Independence Day celebrations around Western New York, each capturing the spirit of the Fourth in their own way. Here’s our picks for five great places to see tonight’s dazzling displays of fireworks.

Do you have other plans for the evening? Find this article at buffalonews.com and let us know your favorite way to spend the Fourth, or tweet us @TheBuffaloNews.

1. Amherst: Baird Point, University at Buffalo North Campus

None of the evening’s fireworks spectacles are quite as spectacular as the explosive extravaganza at UB’s North Campus. That’s why this celebration draws one of the biggest Independence Day crowds in Western New York. Since UB’s North Campus is a central location for city and suburban dwellers, for settled-down families and roaming college students, tens of thousands of people make this their first choice for every Fourth.

“It’s a great tradition,” said John DellaContrada, assistant vice president of UB’s media relations. “These are fireworks that have a reputation for delivering excitement.”

Just be sure to arrive early for this one – the perilous fight for parking might test your patriotism.

The evening begins with a performance by Bill McEwen at 7 p.m., followed by a concert by the Erie County Wind Ensemble, starting at 8:45 and continuing until the fireworks at dusk. Friday is the rain date for both performances, to be held again at the North Campus.

2. Chautauqua: Chautauqua Institution

Why wait until dusk to have fun on the Fourth? The Chautauqua Institution (1 Ames Ave., Chautauqua), as usual, has a packed schedule today, and you can show up well before the fireworks and fill your whole day with patriotic processions. The day starts with a children’s parade at 10 a.m., which Vanessa Weinert, the Chautauqua Institution’s marketing manager, called “the most adorable thing you’ll ever see,” with children ages 3 to 5 decked out in red, white and blue. Chris Hayes, the host of MSNBC’s “Up with Chris Hayes,” will speak in the amphitheater at 10:45 a.m.; Chris Stedman, a humanist chaplain at Harvard University, lectures in the Hall of Philosophy at 2 p.m.; and a production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” kicks off at 4. This is to say nothing of the other seminars, concerts and presentations scheduled through the day.

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra plays its annual pops concert at 8 p.m., leading up to the fireworks around 10, which will coincide with a bells concert at the Miller Bell Tower – a rare chance to, literally, hear freedom ring.

Chautauqua Institution events require a gate pass, which ranges from $13 to $73, depending on age groups and the length of your stay. Go to ciweb.org to purchase gate passes and see the day’s full schedule.

3. Buffalo: Canalside

You would think Canalside (44 Prime St.) would have been a prime location to see fireworks for many years – a place that could rival the dominance of UB’s display. But only in the past few years, with unprecendented and much-needed development finally coming to the waterfront, has the harbor become a hot spot for the holiday.

“This year’s Fourth of July festivities at Canalside celebrate not only America’s independence, but the incredible momentum we’re seeing on Buffalo’s waterfront,” said Robert Gioia, chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.

To celebrate both the American Revolution and the Canalside resurgence, there will be an evening of free events, including a flag folding ceremony at 7 p.m., a concert by the George Scott Big Band of the Colored Musicians Club at 7:30 and children’s’ games and activities from 6 to 9. The Buffalo Niagara Concert Band plays at 9, leading up to the fireworks display over the Buffalo River. In other words: This isn’t your average Thursday at Canalside.

The events will be held rain or shine. Visit canalsidebuffalo.com for more information.

4. Grand Island: Martin’s Fantasy Island

Maybe you have plans for your family early in the day, and then different plans somewhere else for fireworks. Maybe that’s a great way to spend your holiday in one long traffic jam.

But Martin’s Fantasy Island (2400 Grand Island Blvd.) has your whole day covered on its annual Red, White and Blue Day. Admission for the whole day is specially priced at $17.76, the park will be covered in America’s colors and kids get free rides on the antique Princess Carriage. You can go crazy at the theme park’s games and rides all day, and then keep going crazy until dusk – the park stays open late for the fireworks. Most people see the rocket’s red glare in a park by the water; how about seeing it in a theme park by a lit-up Ferris wheel?

When racing to catch fireworks, “some people spend more time in traffic than they spend at the show,” said Len Synor, Martin’s marketing director. “We take care of both here. You get a full day of fun, and then your fireworks at night.”

5. Lewiston: Lewiston Plateau

Are you looking to join a crowd for Independence Day, but not a crowd of, say, 20,000? Then heading down to the Village of Lewiston is a wise and welcoming alternative. You’ll still get a great view of the fireworks against a scenic backdrop, at the Lewiston Plateau (close to Artpark, at 450 S. Fourth St., which will not hold any events for the occasion). But you’ll also get to relax and enjoy the quaint charms of a small town that is steeped in its own fascinating history, from the first European settlers in Western New York to many pivotal battles of the War of 1812. It’s a nice break from the hordes of beer-drinking, music-blasting patriots at some of the more obvious fireworks forays.

“I think Lewiston is just a nice place to be,” said Anne Welch, the village’s clerk/treasurer. “The village is very secure, very safe, and lots of families know that they can go there and not have to worry about anything.”

Welch estimated that only about 1,000 people head to the Lewiston Plateau every year, meaning that, at this celebration, you can join a sea of red, white and blue and still feel like you’ve got the place to yourself.

email: jsilverstein@buffnews.com