Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Chicago have a relatively recent history, since various neighborhoods had developed their own displays and traditions. The American Legion began staging its own fireworks in Soldier Field back in the 1930s, and the City respected that tradition by not competing with it with the exception of 1976, when a large-scale, one-time-only July Fourth fireworks display was organized to celebrate the bicentennial. That event was such a success that an annual downtown fireworks display was contemplated, although July Third—Independence Day Eve—was chosen so as not to compete with the Legion fireworks which, ironically, would become so overshadowed by the July Third fireworks that they would cease from lack of interest. Taking a cue from the best bicentennial fireworks displays across the country (Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Boston) that had spectacularly choreographed the pyrotechnics to a live symphony orchestra, the Grant Park Orchestra was engaged to perform a concert leading up to and during the fireworks, a tradition that continued unbroken for thirty-plus years, until now. Choreographing fireworks to live music has always been a very expensive and elaborate process (conductors control tempo and their cues have to be televised live to the pyrotechnicians), and the city had fought for years to cut back and even eliminate the role of the GPO altogether so that a less expensive, fully-computerized display pre-programmed to canned music could be presented. Audiences wouldn’t know the difference, officials had long theorized, and besides, pop music could be included. And so, after a live patriotic-themed band concert by the Arlington Heights-based 85th Army Band (made up of forty Army reservists from 18 to 60 that practice once a month and usually perform at retirement homes) which will stop playing at 8:45pm, a canned version of Tchaikovsky’s “1812” Overture—not by the GPO or even the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but by the Boston Pops, to add insult to injury—will inaugurate the fireworks at 9pm followed by music of Neil Diamond, Kid Rock, Pink, Chicago, KT Tunstall, Tom Petty, Kevin Rudolf, John Mellencamp, Coldplay, U2, Bruce Springsteen, the Blues Brothers and George Michael. For those who want to hear the GPO perform a live “1812” and other American music that in the past would have accompanied this display, that opportunity comes at 1:30pm in the afternoon the following day, yes, the Fourth of July, and yes, without fireworks. (Dennis Polkow)
July 3, Grant Park’s Petrillo Music Shell, (312)744-3370, 7:30pm. Free.
Author: Dennis Polkow
Dennis Polkow is an award-winning veteran journalist, critic, author, broadcaster and educator. He made his stage debut at age five, was a child art prodigy and began playing keyboards in clubs at the age of fourteen. He holds degrees in music theory, composition, religious studies and philosophy from DePaul University in Chicago. Polkow spent his early years performing and recording in rock and jazz bands while concertizing as a classical pianist, organist and harpsichordist and composing, arranging and producing for other artists. As a scholar, Polkow has published and lectured extensively and taught at several colleges and universities in various departments. As an actor, narrator and consultant, Polkow has been involved with numerous films, plays, broadcasts and documentaries. As a journalist, Polkow helped co-create the experiential Chicago Musicale and Spotlight, the award-winning tabloid arts and entertainment section of the Press Publications chain of newspapers, which he later edited. He also created and ran the nationally recognized journalism program at Oakton College and was faculty advisor to its award-winning student newspaper; many former students went on to major media careers, including Channel Awesome’s the Nostalgia Critic. Polkow’s research, interviews, features, reviews and commentaries have appeared across national and international media and he has corresponded from the Middle East, Asia and Africa for the Chicago Tribune. Contact: email@example.com