Cross it off the Bucket List! Ok, I don't actually have a hard copy Bucket List, but I managed to pull together a whirlwind trip to Washington DC to see the 30th Anniversary of the "Capitol Fourth" concert LIVE. I've grown up watching the PBS show and have wanted to see it in person for ages. Plus the last, and only, time I toured around Washington DC was about 8 years ago, and I wanted to go back with a new knowledge base and see the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum again.
Having gained some unexpected time-off, in 3 days I arranged accompaniment, accommodation, directions, maps of downtown and the Metro subway system, and a very rough plan. I even found the prohibited items list for the Capitol Hill lawn (good thing since I would have taken my umbrella for shade and ended up losing it) and discovered a great piece of info...there was a dress rehearsal open to the public the night before the show! Never one to turn down seeing what was sure to be a great concert more than once I added that to the list of things to do. Now onto the concert.
The magnitude of things was certainly what I expected. The Capitol Building is huge, and very impressive in any light. Being there extra early for the real show we got to take pictures as the sun was setting and it's very pretty.
We were standing at the base of it for the dress rehearsal (the centre lawn had been opened at 3pm and filled by 5pm), and it was a good spot. Thankfully I had remembered my binoculars, and you could see the stage and narration hut quite well, even if the performers were small. The added bonus of attending the concert this year was not only that it was the 30th Anniversary, but also the first "Capitol Fourth" that my favourite, Jack Everly, was conducting. He's replaced Erich Kunzel who had conducted the National Symphony Orchestra in this and the Memorial Day concert for the last 20 years. I'm probably bias, but I think they made an excellent choice and he did a wonderful job.
The real concert was worth the wait. It started with David Archuleta singing "The Star Spangled Banner", then Gladys Knight did her set of songs, followed by a taped history segment with NSO background music, and the real Darius Rucker in the mid-lawn stage. Watching what actually happens on the stage preparation wise that you never see on TV was really neat. There's all the instrument additions and removals (the drum set for the back-up bands and the grand piano for example), plus the orchestra and chorus relaxing. Well not exactly relaxing, but the chorus got to sit, and the Maestro removed his jacket at every opportunity, it must have been brutally hot up there. The orchestra was featured in the overture to the musical "George M" which included Cohan songs such as "Yankee Doodle Dandy", "Mary's a Grand Old Name" and "Grand Old Flag". It was a crowd pleaser, as was Lang Lang's performance of Horowitz's "Variations on the Stars and Stripes". Really there was nothing to say after him but WOW, even the orchestra was applauding. There was a nice tribute to Erich Kunzel by John Schneider singing "When the Saints Go Marching In" and the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps played the "Washington Post March". This was by the fountain of the Capitol Building which was hidden behind walls of people so we couldn't see it except on the large screens, but they sounded good.
Reba McEntire played two of her popular songs, then was awarded the National Artistic Achievement Award. Patriotism took over as she sang "God Bless America" and the fireworks started. Unfortunately trees were in our way since we were on the side of the centre lawn. People had started leaving as soon as she was given the award and I wondered why, the concert wasn't over and they'd sat there all afternoon! Turns out they were going around to the other side of the trees to get a good view of the Washington Monument since the fireworks originated behind it. With the emptying out of people though I was able to move up closer and watch the orchestra during the "1812 Overture" and the two marches they played at the very end which is when the following picture was taken. One I think was a much longer version of the "Washington Post March" the Marines had done. The musicians use clothes pins to attach the music to the stand so it doesn't blow away. I don't there there was enough of a breeze to cause that, but better to be safe than sorry!
The fireworks were pretty amazing, they just never stopped! The display certainly goes much longer than you get to see on TV, and you never get to hear the full orchestra at the end either, they usually cut the broadcast off shortly after the "1812 Overture".
The concert and just July 4 in Washington DC was a great thing to be able to experience. I've now done the Canadian and American capital bashes. They are very different, but both fun. I didn't hear an official crowd estimate for this July 4, but previously I'd heard something like 500,000 people attend. Everyone we chatted with was friendly, and it really is fun to sing along to the US National Anthem and God Bless America, and the other patriotic songs that are great pieces of music, but are rarely heard (and understandably so) north of the 49th parallel. But for one day, I got to be an honorary American!