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Music review

Lockhart and guests leave no doubt the accent was on patriotism

Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops entertained hundreds of thousands of revelers on the Esplanade Sunday night. Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops entertained hundreds of thousands of revelers on the Esplanade Sunday night. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Marc Hirsh
Globe Correspondent / July 6, 2010

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Reprinted from late editions of yesterday’s Globe. Never mind the fact that Craig Ferguson claims that one of the questions he was asked on his citizenship exam was “Do you enjoy gum?’’ Jokes aside, the late-night host, naturalized American citizen, and Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular emcee pointed to the Fourth of July’s “unabashed, uncynical’’ nature as the reason it’s his favorite holiday, and that was the spirit of the program that Keith Lockhart and the Pops put together for the revelers on the Esplanade Sunday night.

There were certainly few deviations from the subject at hand. Unlike previous years’ concerts, which found room for pop songs and examples of more lighthearted Americana like “Casey at the Bat,’’ there was a fairly tight focus on explicitly patriotic material. Renese King’s bluesy “America the Beautiful’’ and the Middlesex County Volunteers Fifes & Drums filled in during the early ramp-up to the concert proper, which began in earnest with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus’s flyover-enhanced “Star-Spangled Banner.’’ And, as per Ferguson’s earlier comment, “earnest’’ was key: their stodgy “This Is My Country’’ could have come from any decade going back to the 1930s.

It was in good company, as the proud, sober “Ragged Old Flag’’ came soon after, though Patrick Shea’s narration wasn’t quite able to bring the gravitas that Johnny Cash’s baritone originally gave the material. Similarly, “The Dream Lives On: A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers’’ featured reverent recitations of excerpts from the Kennedys’ speeches set to a Copland-esque swell, and “America, We’re Proud to Serve’’ offered a singalong medley of the service songs of each of the armed forces.

Things changed a bit after the “1812 Overture’’ offered a firm reminder of why cannons are not (but should be) orchestral instruments and the concert shifted to the national portion of the television broadcast. Toby Keith brought the necessary swagger to “How Do You Like Me Now?!,’’ while the Pops horns and strings gave that song and “God Love Her’’ a bit of the feel of Philly soul.

But after those brief instances of spirited good humor, Keith dropped both his guitar and his smirk and returned to the day’s theme with the somber power of “American Soldier,’’ offering a salute and standing stock-still as the song came to a close. The patriotic singalong followed (with Ferguson’s proudly off-key warbling quite audible) before the fireworks, and like the rest of the concert it was as corny and stirring and proudly American as ever. It just wasn’t quite as much fun as it’s been in the past.

Marc Hirsh can be reached at officialmarc@gmail.com.

BOSTON POPS FIREWORKS SPECTACULAR At: Hatch Shell, Sunday night