Hoo-Ray for the Stars And Stripes

Like any other holiday, the 4th of July has a number of iconic images associated with it: hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill; spending time in your backyard with family and friends drinking cold beer and/or lemonade; going to watch the fireworks with the kids; the news report of some moron who decided to hold a lit M-80.  For me, one of those icon of Independence Day is the Boston Pops playing at the Hatch Shell.  After years of watching it on television, I finally went and experienced it in person. 

In recent years, Boston’s 4th of July celebration has come to be regarded as one of the best – if not THE best – in the country, but the event has been a 30-year-plus tradition going back to Arthur Fiedler.   Since then, major music stars team up with the Pops to celebrate the country’s birthday and a spectacular fireworks display follows, all shown on national television. 

Even before the national attention, getting a prime spot at the Pops at the Hatch Shell – a free concert – has been a major production.  Since overnight camping isn’t allowed, people start lining up in the wee hours of the morning and stay up all night to get a front row seat. 

While we wanted the experience of celebrating the 4th with the Pops, we didn’t want to go quite that far, so we arrived at around 8:30 in the morning.   That is 12 hours before the the concert starts at 8:30 in the evening!

Approaching the entrance from Storrow Drive (it is always weird to walk on a road that is closed and is usually so busy with traffic), we were deceived by what we thought was a short line.  Turning the corner, we found there were probably around 1,000 people in front of us.  Fortunately, the area in front of the Hatch Shell holds approximately 9,000 people and we were able to get a good pick of locations.

I had been saying all along that we would make some new friends during the day and sure enough, as we are standing in line, we began talking with a group of Texans visiting Boston for the week.  Another group of Texas natives got into the conversation, resulting in a whole "Texas A&M vs. Texas Tech vs. University of Texas vs. etc. etc." thing that we felt VERY left out of.  And to think that moments before they were making fun of we Red Sox fans for being so fanatical…

Once through the gates and with our wristband obtained, we picked an ideal location in the shade – that is all I will say, since we plan on going back and don’t want to give away where we sat, but we think it is the ideal location: shady, near the water, and with a good view of the stage.

The day was spent reading, playing cards, staying hydrated and doing a lot of people watching.  It is frightening what people think they can wear.  And I say this knowing full well that I can’t wear just anything and look good in it, but I also don’t go around in speedos.  Therefore, women who jiggle in the wrong places when they walk shouldn’t be wearing bikinis.  and tube tops are a privilege and not a right…

Speaking of American freedoms, I realize that we all have the ability to speak on cell phones and do what we want when we want, but is it really necessary to keep talking through the national anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance?  How important can the conversation be (I’m sure its not that important) that you need to disrespect your country and find out what happened last night on The Surreal Life?  For a guidance of what you’re SUPPOSED to do during the National Anthem, see here.

Anyway – for the most part, people at the event were respectful and laid back.  We had no problem leaving our stuff for a while when we started to take shelter from an approaching thunderstorm.  We shared our drinks with our new Texas friends and watched their stuff while they finished up their Boston site-seeing.

A few days before we had gone to Waterfire in Providence, another event unique to this area, and a another unique one in today’s crazy world.  Basically a bunch of fires anchored and floating in a river streaming through downtown Providence and accompanied by hauntingly beautiful music, it is an event that forces people to slow down and stroll, converse, or sit in quiet reflection.  In a world filled with extreme sports, fast-cut editing and 24-hour everything, anything that is capable of getting people to slow down is remarkable.  Spending the day on the Esplanade just reading, playing cards and talking was a great way to spend a holiday.

The concert itself was fantastic – great music that swelled with Patriotic pride, from Bernstein’s "Overture to Candide" to the grand finale of the "Stars and Stripes Forever."  Steven Tyler and Joe Perry were the special musical guests, which was the impetus for me going this year in the first place; not only am I a big Aerosmith fan, but it was going to be the first time Steven was going to perform since his throat surgery.  The first time he let out a signature Tyler-style screech, the crowd went wild, knowing that he was back in perfect form.

An interesting factoid: the Boston Pops keep playing during what are commercial breaks at home.  We heard the theme from Rocky, a song from the musical Chicago, and a hilarious sing-along of classic rock tunes led by conductor Keith Lockhart, who really can’t sing at all.  Like bad karaoke with a great backing band…

Second interesting factoid: the area in front of the Pops pretty much clears out during Stars & Stripes, as people rush to get a good spot for the fireworks.  There was no way I was leaving before seeing the American flag drop down from the top of the Hatch Shell, one of the simplest yet dramatic moments of the celebration.

A highlight was seeing the 1812 Overture performed live – we were close enough to the cannons on the riverbank that we could see the sparks fly out when they went off and at the finale had fireworks behind us, cannons to the left and the Pops to our front!

The fireworks were spectacular, perfectly choreographed to a great music soundtrack and reflecting perfectly in the water of the Charles river.

The smartest move of the day however, was the decision to stay in a hotel on Tuesday night.  While everyone else was still trudging to their cars and fighting traffic, we were showered and on a comfy bed watching the 11:00 news and saying "Hey! We were just there!!" which was pretty cool to be able to say.