The Fourth of July has always been a big holiday for me. As a kid I remember going to my dad’s office picnic on the fourth, held in a Washington, D.C. park. You could have all the hamburgers or hotdogs you wanted, plus there was a large steel tub filled with ice and soft drinks, which was a special treat since we rarely had Cokes at home. Of course, there was a fireworks display that the adults oohed and ahhed at, while we kids ran around with white-hot flaming sparklers, threatening everyone with first degree burns.
Later, after our family had moved to Mclean, Virginia, my parents joined a neighborhood group, “The Franklin Frolickers”, so called because we lived in Franklin Park, a pleasant wooded community. The Frolickers held parties on all the major holidays, but July fourth was a big one. Lots of burgers frying on the grill, five kinds of potato salad, women dressed in red and white, kids running wild, and fireworks when it got dark.
As a teenager, I snuck my first beer out of the cooler at one of those parties, a can of Budweiser. I sat in the adjacent woods with a couple of friends and drank it, and I can remember exactly how it tasted. Nasty… Another year, the weather had been very dry, and some post-picnic Roman candles set the woods on fire, necessitating a visit from the fire department. Good times.
I found a list I made when I was in my twenties, of all the July fourths I could remember at the time, and where I was on that date. I had been at the Washington Monument grounds three or four times for their magnificent display, and had even played at the pre-show concert one year when one of the acts was late. I had my guitar with me, and someone pushed me on stage to sing Neal Young songs for a half an hour…
Then, there was the hot night in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, when the Blue Angels screamed in off the ocean and down Main street as a kick-off to the fireworks, as I watched with my arms around a cute new girlfriend in front of the restaurant where I had scored a summer gig.
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
But after I started working as a professional musician, whatever group I was in was usually booked for some outdoor event July fourth, and normally our last song of the night was the cue for the fireworks to start. I’ve fumbled around in the dark trying to pack up my stuff as bombs went off overhead and green and gold glitter streaked the sky more times than I can count.
I really got my fill of fireworks back in the early nineties. I had just started working as a guitar and fiddle player for Tanya Tucker, and we frequently toured as an opening act for Lee Greenwood. Lee had written and recorded a song called, “God Bless the USA” in 1984, but when the US invaded Iraq in the first Gulf War, both the song’s and Lee’s popularity soared. I think we played Fourth of July events with Greenwood three years in a row, complete with 4-star generals giving speeches, excessive flag waving, patriotic fervor to the point of overload, and some of the most spectacular fireworks displays I have ever seen.
Since then, I have played a gig on the Fourth of July just about every year, usually outdoor festivals with big fireworks afterwards. Many years, since I was working with Canadian singer Michelle Wright, I would play a concert followed by fireworks on July first to celebrate Canada Day, and then go back to the states to do a July fourth gig. I’ve also played many other types of celebrations, such as some city’s centennial celebration, also featuring large bombastic pyrotechnic displays.
So for me, it is not as exciting as it used to be, unfortunately. Last year, I didn’t have a gig for the Fourth, and I briefly entertained the notion of attending Nashville’s excellent annual fireworks, launched from a bridge over the Cumberland River downtown. But in the end, I couldn’t bring myself to fight the crowds and the heat to see something that I’ve seen so many times before. Fireworks are a lot of fun, and I urge everyone to attend your local displays. But I’ve had my fill, and I’ll probably be in bed by the time the bombs start bursting in air.
But maybe I’ll watch them on TV. Just for old time’s sake.