For the past 15 years, Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart has been one of the city's most familiar public faces and likable personalities. Every July 4, America rediscovers that charm. The third hour of the "Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular," performed before a crowd of 500,000 or so on the Esplanade, is broadcast to six-million-plus viewers over CBS. (In Boston, WBZ-TV broadcasts the entire show, from 8 to 11 pm, and this year, for the first time, the station will stream it live, on www.wbztv.com.) I spoke with Lockhart while he was on a pre-holiday vacation at his Maine cabin with his wife, Emiley Zalesky Lockhart, and their Labradoodle, Oban.
When does preparation for the Fourth start?
It starts, really, July 5, when you talk about what you didn't like about the previous year's show and what you hope is different. In terms of the artist wish list, there are people we have been working on, or chasing, for 10 years. In terms of actual preparation, the arrangers make sure the material is there at the beginning of the Pops season, but the rehearsal time is very close to the date. The Pops will reassemble on the third [of July, at the Hatch Shell, for a public dress rehearsal, 8:30-10 pm], and that's when Neil Diamond will come.
Where has Diamond been on that wish list?
He's been on the list for a long time. He's one of those perennials. There are iconic American pop people, and one was, obviously, Neil Diamond. "America" and "Sweet Caroline" — doesn't really matter what else he does. And finally it worked out. Some people say, "Why don't you go for a more contemporary artist?" But the thing is, our demographic is pretty wide for this concert, and it's not, frankly, mostly 15-year-olds. You want somebody who really appeals to a middle crowd in terms of age demographic. Neil Diamond has been a pop icon for, what, 40 years? And he's still doing it. That's perfect for us.
This is your host Craig Ferguson's third straight year.
I think he's very appealing, very hysterical, very real. In the first year, of course, he was stumping to get his citizenship, and he thought that was a good place to make a plea. He's an immigrant, and [that's] what our country was supposedly built on.
True, but he was already a success story, and he emigrated from a country we like. Which brings me back to "America," all the triumph and glory of the immigrant experience. Which doesn't seem the case today.
Exactly, when we were welcoming people . . . But people forget that as soon as you come here and go one generation past, you become the people who have a right to be here.