Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pop goes the Fourth of July?

I am less than a 5 minute walk from the Hatch Shell, where the annual Boston Pops Fourth of July spectacular – concert, 1812 Overture, fireworks. But I haven’t watched it in person in years. Make that decades.

When it first started turning into a big deal, in the early 1970’s, I went a couple of times. There were always a few other Pops concerts each summer, over at the Hatch Shell, but the one of the 4th, although not a huge deal, was always special. At one of those concerts, I witnessed one of the most absurd parent-child encounters ever. The audience was clapping along with a Sousa march, and the mom on the blanket next to mine was encouraging her toddler – maybe two years old – to clap along with the clappers along. The kiddo wasn’t having any of it. After a few sweetness and light attempts to get her daughter into the spirit of the evening, she grabbed her daughter’s arm and hissed, “Clap, or I’ll clap your ass.”

Who can blame the child? It was Independence Day, after all. Shouldn’t everyone be able to be a little independent, and not go along with the crowd? To be true to your very own little self?

Anyway, by the time the Bicentennial rolled around, the crowds were starting to get too large for my liking. On July 3, 1976, I believe there was a dress rehearsal concert. I went to that. On July 4, 1976, I stayed home and watched the fireworks out my window. (I’ve lived in four places since 1975, and all of them have had a pretty good view of the Esplanade fireworks.)

For a couple of years, Jim and I lived in a place where we had rooftop access, so we’d sit up on the roof and watch the fireworks thataway. Some years we’d walk around during the concert, and watch the fireworks from the Salt-and-Pepper (Longfellow) Bridge. Then 25 years ago we moved into our condo, with an excellent view of the fireworks out out kitchen and living room windows.

Once they started televising the concert, we’d watch the concert on TV and the fireworks out the window.

Like so many public events, the Fourth of July concert in Boston has gotten bigger, and BIGGER over the years.

This, of course, makes me nostalgic for the days when you could, say, stroll over to the Marathon finish line a few minutes before the marathoners started finishing. And when you could decide in the early evening that it might be fun to take your blanket over to the Esplanade and watch the concert and fireworks.

But then everything had to go and become a very big deal. Which, for the Glorious Fourth in Boston, meant not just listening to the Pops orchestra, but having to have some big name act to go along with it. It meant everyone being disappointed if at least a half-million people didn’t show up. It meant people started staking out space the day before, until they outlawed that. (Now, I believe, you can’t throw your blanket down until 5 a.m. day of.) The fireworks have to be showier, and the showier show has to last longer.

Although I completely adore fireworks, and never want the show to end, I’m one of those folks who in general just likes things better when they’re lower key.

I’ve been up to Salem to watch their fireworks a couple of times, and it’s actually more fun. Crowds, but not CROWDS. Nice fireworks set to music and, as a bonus, you get to look out over the harbor and see the fireworks from the neighboring towns. (Many years ago, I was flying back on July 3rd to Boston from a business trip to Minneapolis. As we flew, we passed over a number of towns that were having their fireworks event on the eve of the 4th. A beautiful sight to behold from the sky.)

As the Fourth of July Esplanade celebration has grown over the years, one thing has stayed constant: the time and treasure support of David Mugar, scion of a local grocery store chain.

The 77-year-old Mugar has quietly contributed 40,000 hours and roughly $20 million to the venture since 1974, when he first convinced Boston Pops maestro Arthur Fiedler to end a July 4 concert with the “1812 Overture” and pair it with cannon fire, church bells, and fireworks. (Source: Boston Globe)

In addition to all the money Mugar has poured in, there have been corporate sponsors brought in as the event (and event costs) grew. For the last decade or so, it was Liberty Mutual Insurance, but they’ve called it quits. So Mugar and his folks went hunting for another key sponsor, not just for this year, but moving forward. (This is Mugar’s last year of involvement.) An initial feeler went out to 1,000 companies. Only 75 even bothered to ask for more info. None of them steppe up/stepped in.

That makes the future murky for one of New England’s signature events, a July Fourth celebration that cemented itself as an institution in 1976 — drawing a Guinness Book of World Records crowd and plaudits from Walter Cronkite — and has since become part of the region’s civic DNA.

This year’s really big show will be televised on CBS. The pop stars will be the decidedly-post Walter Cronkite Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas “and country act Little Big Town, who have a combined 49 million Twitter followers.” Not enough to entice a corporate sponsor. Mugar’s picking up all the costs that won’t be covered by CBS, to the tune of about $2M. Beyond this year, the event is in question.

Part of me wouldn’t mind if it went back to the pokey little event it used to be, when attendance was in the tens-of-thousands, rather than the hundreds. But the other part of me wants it to remain a big deal, even though all I do is watch it on TV, and out my kitchen window.

GE is moving it’s corporate HQ to Boston. You guys don’t seem to ever pay any taxes. How about it?

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