The Mysterious Case of the July 3rd Fireworks Show

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 1, 2009 7:00PM

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Photo by Ruthieki
The Grant Park Orchestra has performed for the City's Independence Eve celebration every year since the Petrillo Music Shell opened in 1978, a tradition that is changing this Friday when the 85th Army Band takes over the pre-fireworks concert. The GPO will instead perform a daytime concert on July 4 in the Pritzker Pavilion, an event the Grant Park Music Festival and Millennium Park are characterizing as a new tradition, indicating that this change is a permanent one.

It remains unclear why the change was made. In his June 16 article about the GPMF, Dennis Polkow of Newcity Music describes GPMF Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar as "visibly agitated" when the move was brought up in conversation:

That concert could be heard by throngs up and down the lakefront from loudspeakers and radios. In fact, the GPO even released a recording called "Independence Day Eve at Grant Park" in 1998 with a cover showing the Orchestra performing while fireworks dart over a Chicago skyline. "I can’t talk about this," says Kalmar, "because I was there and I know all of the back story, and I don’t want to start point pointing fingers at people. It is not my style."

Further, members of the administrations of the GPMF and Millennium Park have also indicated the move was not their idea, instead saying the decision was made by the Mayor's Office of Special Events, the City department responsible for programming in Grant Park.

When asked about the reason the change was made, MOSE Director of Public Relations Cindy Gatziolis said that the Taste of Chicago is an ever-changing event, and the 85th was brought in in the interest of increasing patriotism, as issue that went beyond just having a military unit perform. "When last year's soundtrack was found to be missing some American-themed songs, we worked to improve that for this year," said Gatziolis. Additionally, when asked to respond to GPMF and Millennium Park's depiction of the decision as unilateral in nature, Gatziolis said, "I can assure you that final decisions were made in a meeting with both parties present and both parties agreeing."

Regardless of how the parties arrived at the decision, the fact remains that there will now be two concerts chock full of patriotic tunes. Aside from a few overlaps - the national anthem, "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "America the Beautiful," and "Stars and Stripes Forever" - the repertoire will be different.

Friday, July 3, at 7:30 p.m. - Petrillo Music Shell
The 85th Army Band, based in Arlington Heights, will augment their forty musicians - the standard number for an Army Reserve band - with an additional twenty-one musicians from the 312th, 451st, and 484th Army Bands, as well as a vocal quartet consisting of two civilians, Cherilee Wadsworth Walker and Kirk Moser, alongside the 85th's Sergeant Michael Griffin and Specialist Tina Schultz. Following their performance of patriotic numbers, 101.9 The Mix will provide the soundtrack for the twenty minutes of fireworks put on by Melrose Pyrotechnics, the U.S. representative at next month's international fireworks competition "L'International des Feux Loto-Qu├ębec."

Saturday, July 4, at 1:30 p.m. - Jay Pritzker Pavilion
The Grant Park Orchestra's performance with special guest tap dancer Lane Alexander will begin at 1:30 p.m., but show up at 11:00 a.m. to picnic and enjoy the fairly obscure theme of John McCutcheon's "Bird Center," a series of cartoons by the former Tribune cartoonist based on a fictional Illinois town. Members of Collaboraction will be on the lawn acting as Bird Center citizens, and Tim Samuelson, the curator of the McCutcheon exhibit currently at the Cultural Center, will dress up like the "Bird Center" character Judge Warden and read the Declaration of Independence. Bring your own lunch or buy a lunch from Marcello's - also "Bird Center"-themed - for $6.95.