“We love you, Keith!” The shout went up from somewhere among the masses that filled the Esplanade for the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular at the Hatch Shell on Saturday night, a crowd that stretched as far as the eye could see. Lockhart, preparing for the next number on a program barely begun, responded in kind. “We love you, too,” he shouted, off-mike, and presumably ad-libbing.
The sentiment was no surprise, given the Pops’ perennial appeal and Lockhart’s genial leadership. Still, if you sensed an extra touch of intensity about its expression this time around, most likely you weren’t mistaken. Two good reasons for that: one, this is Lockhart’s 20th anniversary as the Pops conductor (and thus the public face for Independence Day), and two, as Lockhart just recounted in a Boston Globe interview, last year we didn’t even get a proper Fourth of July, thanks to Hurricane Arthur.
No surprise, then, that on a crisp, cool evening as close to perfect as I expect I’ll ever encounter, anticipation ran high. The Boston Crusaders drum and bugle corps; the Sons of Serendip, a chamber-soul quartet and “America’s Got Talent” finalist; and Melinda Doolittle, a robust-voiced favorite from “American Idol,” all effectively set the stage for the main event.
Which was, it turned out, a bit of this and a bit of that, held together by the orchestra’s sterling musicianship and versatility, and Lockhart’s energy and charisma. Viewed logically, an opening Beatles medley felt counterintuitive in a patriotic setting. But it established a festive mood that endured through a pair of Sinatra-related pop standards, a rendition of the OneRepublic pop affirmation “I Lived” with the Sons of Serendip, and a pair of John Williams chestnuts — the latter, “Raiders March,” selected from three options, by audience members using text messages.
The unquestionable highlight of the concert’s first half, and arguably of the entire show, was a return performance by Doolittle, whose three-song spot culminated in a fiery “Proud Mary” sung as a duet with the gospel singer Michelle Brooks-Thompson, a finalist from “The Voice” and a gospel recording artist. “I grew up with a big ol’ smile and not much of a voice,” Doolittle had confessed to TV host Lisa Hughes during her opening number — a confession that made the big-voiced singer all the more impressive.
Michael Cavanaugh, a genial young pop singer and pianist tapped by Billy Joel for the jukebox musical “Movin’ Out,” pleased the audience in the concert’s second half, offering respectful and respectable renditions of Joel tunes and another audience-vote winner, “Pinball Wizard.”
For the heady final course of its festive smorgasbord, the Pops served up two traditional selections: one specific to Boston, the other to Independence Day, neither of them easily explained, both unthinkable to omit: a rendition of “Sweet Caroline” involving all of the evening’s singers, and an account of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” abetted by the Boston Crusaders, and properly wistful, heroic, and explosive by turns.
Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular
AT: DCR Hatch Shell, Saturday
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story provided the incorrect name of the event. An earlier version of this story also incorrectly spelled the name of the group Sons of Serendip.