An invitation to the “Capitol Fourth” concert on the National Mall seemed interesting. Smokey Robinson was headlining, a bigger draw for me than, say Barry Manilow or Frankie Valli, who have performed in earlier years.
It’s always enlightening to see a TV special put together, too, and it might be the first chance I’ve gotten to see the National Mall fireworks right down there at the Capitol.
And as well planned as everything seemed to be, there was no oversight on the weather. So it rained and rained and rained in the hours leading up to the concert. I was supposed to arrive more than an hour early, too, to get through security and lines and such. So there I was in umbrella and raincoat looking for the entrance.
There were no tickets for the VIP section – everybody’s name was on a list. And because my name was spelled incorrectly, it wasn’t clear I’d even be allowed in. Rain makes everyone more forgiving though, and next stop was the metal detectors. Once inside, I had an actual seat with my name (still misspelled) on it that turned out to be amid the production, twelve rows from the stage, right next to the big TelePrompTer and a main bank of cameras, all covered in plastic.
There followed a fairly miserable hour of sitting in the rain. Even with an umbrella (that had to come down at showtime), legs got soaked and rain started to seep inside the shoes. All this despite the early advisory to be dress casual. Which meant no shorts, flip flops or T shirts (even the ones from Old Navy). “Many men wear sports coats” though women didn’t have to wear heels because it was on grass.
The ambition of a well-dressed seated audience went out the window with the rain. Instead, many people were given plastic ponchos. So the rules could have easily been amended “sports coats .. or trash bags.” The senators who came in were given robe-like red ponchos that made them look like Tibetan monks.
What served as a warm up was a too-cheery prerecorded voice welcoming everybody and setting out ground rules (please look enthusiastic when cameras are on you!), never mentioning the deluge. (Though if there was severe weather, we’d be escorted out to safety).
Production assistants were still admonishing people to take down umbrellas as the show started at 8, with perky Sutton Foster doing a patriotic song and dance during which one of the backup dancers came very close to a spill because of the wet surface.
Tom Bergeron of “Dancing with the Stars” was an able host, who stood on the main stage at the beginning but then seemed to disappear. It turned out that his introductions later in the show were done entirely from a strange, colonial style treehouse just behind my seats.
On TV, it looked like he was on the lip of the stage with the vast National Symphony and some big choir behind him. But he was up in the treehouse, observing everything like a sentry. A dry sentry.
It seemed crazy that Smokey Robinson came on almost immediately. One would think he was the headliner, but the fireworks are always the headliner in such shows, so all usual order was out. With his own band — and the orchestra, and the singers — it might have been one of the biggest backing he’s received in a while as he sang “I Second That Emotion.” It would be the only hit he played, taking the rest of his brief time with a medley of two songs he wrote for The Temptations, “Get Ready” and “My Girl.”
A lot of the performers were tied to reality talent shows. Alisan Porter, who won “The Voice” this year, was called on for a couple of patriotic songs. Jackie Evancho, who rose to fame on “America’s Got Talent” did Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” with its original intro.
Christopher Jackson was there from “Hamilton,” but sang from his previous musical “The Lion King” on the main stage (He eventually did a “Hamilton” song from some other weird stage completely unseen from where I was sitting, as did Cassadee Pope, who won a whole different season of “The Voice”).
Amber Riley was from TV (“Glee”) but not a reality show. She had to Pointer Sister, though in trying to get the crowd moving to “I’m So Excited.” Gavin McGraw may have had the best optics of night, singing one of his own songs to salute the USO from a small stage behind me, the capitol building and the bulk of the crowd behind him.
The Capitol Fourth is the oldest-school of the three national TV fireworks show, with Nick Jonas in Boston and Pitbull in New York, there was really nobody to get young people excited. Though for the oldsters there was Kenny Loggins, who sang a new song as well as “Footloose.” And even the other Broadway act presented, the cast of “Get On Your Feet” made do with Gloria Estefan oldies that are the basis of the show.
The biggest shock of the night came with the realization that the fireworks couldn’t be seen by people in front of the Capitol Fourth stage at all — the roof of the stage blocked out the sky entirely. So we could hear the booms, and as the NSO played its patriotic setlist, the crowd around me quickly left.
This would be bad enough except that the people at home didn’t even get the correct fireworks footage. Because it was still so cloudy and foggy, the fireworks were less than HD ready. Rather, they dissolved into the clouds to give dissolute color to the cover, along with the noise. Showing the actual fireworks as they went on would have been maybe not as spectacular as previous years, but they would have been real and would have been what was advertised: live coverage of the D.C. fireworks.
It may have been not optimum but what are you going to do? Swap out Macy’s Parade footage if it rains to show a sunnier day past? Swap in a politician’s press conference when he wasn’t looking so tired? Give us the real fireworks, foggy as it may be, if only to make us appreciate any fireworks on a clear Fourth of July to come. (Or at least make viewers at home feel good about not venturing out).