As for Independence Hall, it has been more than a mere prop for these concerts, presented by Welcome America Inc. Other cities leverage celebrity or deploy video and other visuals to heighten the impact of patriotic tunes on the Fourth. Let them have their gimmicks. We have meaning. To stretch on a blanket nestled amid Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell while reflecting on the sounds of Americana feels like one of the great gifts of authenticity.
Of course, Verizon Hall offered some gains. For one, you could hear. That wasn't always the case on Independence Mall, where an inferior sound system delivered a tinny facsimile to anyone venturing too far from Chestnut Street. But now glitches came through loud and clear: intonation problems, occasional lack of unanimity. In a Gershwin medley, the strings were far from a lush ideal.
But the Pops still swing. The program was largely standards: George M. Cohan, Morton Gould's American Salute, and Armed Forces on Parade, with the house lights turned up to see audience members stand when hearing their affiliated theme song. If there's something strongly anachronistic about it all - with the spirit of Kate Smith hovering nearby - there's also a warm, town-meeting feeling to this Philly Pops concert. Many in the crowd brought a little bit of America with them - some with trousers or shirts done up in stars and stripes, others in tall hats of red, white, and blue.
Nero's replacement was veteran conductor Larry Blank, affable and available. But the artistic credibility of the evening came with Broadway singer/actress Capathia Jenkins. Stylistically, she may not have brought much to "The Way We Were." But for her "God Bless America," Jenkins perfectly summoned all manner of emotion and meaning.
Nero typically ended his concerts with "The Liberty Bell March." Blank chose instead "Stars and Stripes Forever," which signaled the end of an era. It was a night for carefully erected historical markers, and neither a Liberty Bell nor Nero was in sight.