For millions of American families, fireworks on the Fourth of July have to be finished in time to head home, get some tasty snacks going, and see throngs gathering along the Charles River Esplanade for the Boston Pops Orchestra to formally cap off Independence Day in proper fashion. This year was no exception, and anyone watching the festivities broadcast July 4 on CBS saw a mix of something new, still stirred with the traditional, and crowned with a tribute very fitting for the true Prince. There are competitors. Macy's offers its own bang up job in New York, and then there's a tribute from the nation's capital, but considering that a snafu was created from using stock footage instead of confessing conditions caused by clouds and storms, it only made the cannon blasts from Boston sound all the more welcoming.
Many families in the crowd started gathering for prime spots in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and several daughters within those families had no trouble stating that it was having a clear view of Nick Jonas, more than patriotic fervor to view the harbor that sparked their dedication. Speaking of dedication, its mind blowing to think that it's now been 25 years since the dashing Keith Lockhart from Poughkeepsie took the reigns of the world-famous orchestra of Beantown and now also splits his time with the BBC Concert Orchestra. It once was that Lockhart, now 56, was the star of the PBS evening when he joined the Pops in 1995, and greatly boosted the younger demographic following for his legendary players. He has continually widened that appeal, too. Demi Lovato opened performances with “Cool For the Summer,” wearing a super short, sexy black and gold bodysuit and high boots over any red, white and blue, and tour partner, Jonas, did the decked in black style, too, singing his hits, “Chains” and “Close” with Lovato sharing vocals, and the screams came from contingents other than tweens on the grass, too. The pair did an on-point version of “America the Beautiful,” over stylized a bit much by Nick Jonas, but it got everyone singing who would not be singing in school, and they all knew the words.
The patriotic sing-along led by Lockhart remains one of the most simple and endearing elements to the show, and seeing ages 1 to 70 swaying along with the words still touches the heart. Little Big Town built a musical bridge between young and old, beginning with their megahit, “Girl Crush,” then hearkening back to “Boondocks” with down-home enthusiasm, before taking the crowd onto “Pontoon.” The finale was reserved for Prince, as Demi Lovato launched into “Purple Rain” with the sweeping musical landscape provided by Lockhart and his artists painting the emotion. The fervent performance cemented her standing as a stellar vocalist even beyond her own “Stone Cold.” The blaze of the sky against the awning in all white surged with all the meaning necessary after the crying refrains of “Purple Rain” without any actual tears from heaven.
No matter the naysayers already casting clouds on the future of the Boston Pops, spectacular shows that evoke emotion on par with this night, and a conductor who has the vision to initiate JazzFest, EdgeFest, and coming road tours for the celebrated ensemble, will keep the Pops playing for generations.