While tens of thousands of Boston concert-goers were being herded from the Esplanade to a tunnel under Storrow Drive under threat of storm, Ogunquit, Maine was celebrating July 4th as tradition would have it: simple and lovely. Standing on the Marginal Way, overlooking the water, the friendly, appreciative crowd could see the fireworks unfolding along the coast: first in Kenebunkport, then another display from Wells, and Moody, then farther off from Berwick and, finally, Ogunquit itself. Twenty minutes of fireworks without the piped in music or enforced hilarity, patriotic red, white and blue head gear, just the pleasure of small communal gatherings, good cheer and then home for ice cream…and to watch the three nationally televised celebrations.
What used to be special about Boston’s Fourth of July has gone irretrievably commercial. CBS has wrecked the Boston Pops coverage by lacing it through and through with commercials, then doing the fireworks to canned music. (Full disclosure: my former employer, WCVB-TV, aired the concert for years in collaboration with the Arts & Entertainment Network. It may have had a smaller national audience, but it did showcase the concert rather than have it function solely as a warm-up act for the fireworks.)
New York’s celebration on NBC was on a grand scale, with some wonderful shots of events on the Hudson, but it ran a clear second to the commercial-free PBS coverage of events in Washington. There the concert was completely live, featuring the National Symphony Orchestra (with John Williams guest conducting his Olympic fanfare) , the Choral Arts Society of Washington, and for the fireworks a combination of The US Army Herald Trumpets, The US Army Ceremonial Band and the Quantico Marine Corps Band.
Staged on the West Lawn of the US Capitol, the concert was set and fireworks dramatically splashed against a backdrop of the majestic D.C. monuments and landmarks. It was decidely not the synthetic and embarrassing “Boston landmarks” gimmick CBS tried here last year.
(I must admit, while watching all this display of pyrotechnics, I also thought of the many in the Washington DC area who are still without power due to the recent massive weather-related blackout.)
There are many ways to honor John Adam’s call for “bonfires and illuminations” and other expressions of national celebration of our independence (which, by the way, he wrote Abigail, he wanted done on July 2. ) I especially enjoyed the old-fashioned way it happened in Ogunquit and neighboring towns. The experience was sweet, and it spoke to the kind of simplicity and authenticity found in small cities and towns across the country. Sort of analogous to a visit to the Lowell Spinners rather than Fenway Park, a trip to how things once were and what is a pleasure to recapture.