Pops serve up a perfect plate of patriotic fun
Reprinted from late editions of Saturday's Globe.
If it were just fireworks they wanted, Bostonians could watch from any number of vantage points around the city. But people make the trek to the Hatch Shell for the annual Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular to get the whole experience: the logjam crowds, the cannons going off at close range, the excuse to wear ridiculous headgear. There's also the music, of course, and Friday night's festivities covered pieces spanning Francis Scott Key and John Philip Sousa to the Dropkick Murphys and featured guests Rascal Flatts.
The common thread, appropriately enough, was America, and Pops conductor Keith Lockhart expanded on that theme with sets built around Leonard Bernstein and baseball. The salute to the national pastime included the Tanglewood Festival Chorus singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" (with even the verses that nobody knows about), a reading of "Casey at the Bat" by WBZ-TV's Jack Williams, and "The National Game March," jaunty as only a Sousa march can be. For the latter, Lockhart donned a Red Sox jersey and simulated the crack of the bat.
The evening's first guest performer was Boston Pops High School Sing-Off winner Katie Mayhew, from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. "Being Alive" from "Company" seemed like an odd choice for a teenager, but Mayhew gave a fine, assured performance in a deep, vibrato-laden voice.
While he was never onstage, the announcement that Martin Scorsese was in attendance led directly into the Pops' appropriately vicious version of the Murphys' "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," complete with stepdancing from the Ford School of Irish Dance.
After the cannons and fireworks from the 1812 Overture had faded, last year's host, Craig Ferguson, took over from Lockhart for the start of the national television broadcast. The late-night comic announced that this was his first July Fourth since becoming an American citizen in January (figuring that meant nobody should give him any trouble, because "I can shoot you back").
After suggesting that one of the fireworks the crowd could expect was the "spinning badger," Ferguson handed the spotlight over to Rascal Flatts. The upbeat anthems like "Life is a Highway" and the swaying, romantic "Every Day" kept up the celebratory mood, but with only three songs (one of which was played during the commercial break), they seemed to leave the stage just as they were getting started.
The Pops took over again with a snippet of "Sing, Sing, Sing" before settling into the home stretch with a 500,000-person patriotic karaoke session and "The Stars and Stripes Forever" as a prelude to the explosions in the sky.