“A Capital Fourth”

Every year on July 4th, my family tries to watch the ‘Capital 4th’ concert on PBS. Some years we miss it, but it’s certainly been one of the more constant traditions my family has had on Independence Day (aside from watching the movie….Independence Day). I’ve always pushed my family to watch it because it’s very neat to see the capital, the fireworks, and some interesting performances – one that particularly stands out in my mind was the 1999(ish) performance of the soundtrack to Star Wars Episode I with a brass band.

So when I came down to Washington D.C. for two summers in a row, I knew that I needed to go sometime. My first summer I was interning in College Park, which would have meant a long Metro ride when the entire rail system is clogged with tourists. I decided to pass, especially since I would be coming back the next summer.

This year I planned wholeheartedly on going in. The train ride to the National Mall was not as crowded as I had expected, although it seems that the fireworks are the more popular pastime in D.C., rather than the concert I was going to attend. It’s hard to tell on TV how the concert is situated. I had been under the impression the concert faced away from the Capital building and into the mall, however, the concert was faced towards the Capital building, which greatly reduced the amount of people who could see it. All of the sections were already full of people, and police were not letting people into the main section directly in front of the stage. That section was ‘standing room only’, while the areas with peripheral views had people sitting. I waded through the sitting bystanders and found a spot with enough room for one person and a decent view of the stage. While part of it was obscured by trees, it was going to be the best view available.

All around me was an incredibly diverse group of people, and it made me really proud to be American. The concert started, and suddenly people in front of us started standing up, and there was no way to see the stage. There were grumblings of discontent around me until someone finally yelled ‘Down in front!’, and a group of people picked up the cry until the offenders, annoyed, sat back down. It was truly a startling group effort from a bunch of Americans…if some people were selfish and continued to stand, literally 100 people might not be able to see. For the rest of the concert, it was not an issue.

Since I was sitting down, the little I could see of the concert was still very nice. Certainly the three main highlights were performances by Matthew Morrison (a main cast member of Glee, which I enjoy watching), Josh Groban (of whom I had never heard, but sang very well), and Steve Martin’s banjo playing, which reminded me strongly of Prairie Home Companion. It began to rain twice during the concert, and the first bout of rain was fairly strong, so much so that I considered leaving. Many people did, but a lot of people without umbrellas stayed, so I stayed (I knew I wouldn’t look like a soaking-wet moron if other people were too). Aside from the rain, the air cooled, the cicadas started singing over top of the concert, and fireflies started to flit amongst the crowd members.

The concert crowd abruptly left at the beginning of the fireworks, hordes of people just streaming away. This was surprising, although it makes sense, since people seemed more eager to watch the fireworks or to try and beat the crowds home. (However, they themselves were part of the crowd….) This worked out very well for me as the symphony had yet to begin the 1812 overture, by far my favorite part of the concert. I easily moved right over to the fence and got a better view of the stage and the area where the cannons were being shot off. Then the orchestra and chorus started playing, and the cannons CRACKed over the orchestra, the sound resounding off the Capital building and echoing with the pops of the fireworks over the mall. I just stood there with a rather stupid goofy grin and cringed at the loud bangs of the cannons as the overture drew to a close.

I also stayed to listen to the symphony play ‘some of America’s favorite marches’. I had a roughly decent view of the fireworks silhouetted behind the Washington Monument, and I was waiting for a specific part.

My mother always pointed out one musical selection to me while we were watching, as part of the ‘Stars and Stripes’ march, I think. She used to play flute when she was in band, and had gotten to play the piccolo that pipes up above the band at a certain part. She always smiled when we got to it, so it always stands out to me very vividly. I smiled too when I heard it, the piccolo’s notes cheerily resounding over the orchestra, and waited until the band finished playing the piece before slowly making my way back to the metro station.

Overall, it was an enjoyable experience, and a great way to spend my Fourth of July. I hope that yours went just as well!

[Pictures and video will come later when I pull them off my camera. 🙂]