Walsh Cancels All Festivals and Parades for the Summer; Boston Pops to Hold Virtual July 4th Event

Mayor Walsh on May 8 announced that all festivals and parades scheduled to be held on city property this summer, up to and including Labor Day, will be cancelled. He encouraged organizers of these events to create virtual versions so people could still participate without gathering in large crowds.

“This is a public health decision and it’s the right decision,” he said at a press conference last Friday. He said that smaller scale events may be able to happen later in the city, but everything will be evaluated on a “case by case basis.”

Walsh said in a statement, ““While we’re planning a healthy reopening and an equitable recovery process, I know this announcement will be disappointing to many residents and organizations that look forward to these events each year. This is a hard public health decision, but it’s the right one. I encourage people to rethink their events, and thank them for their work to inspire us, and help our communities get through this difficult time.”

The City said that cancelled events include ones that “bring crowds together in close contact, like a road race, concert or flag raising,” and no events that involve more than 10 people should be planned.

When asked at a press conference on Monday about the concerts scheduled for Fenway Park this summer, particularly the New Kids on the Block concert scheduled for September 19, the mayor said, “as of right now that has not been cancelled by Fenway,” nor have several of the other concerts slated for this summer. “We have no idea where we’re going to be in August,” Walsh said. “There are a lot of questions swirling around. If we’re in a different place in August in society, then I’ll be having a different conversation.”

One of the most notable cancellations of the summer is the Boston Pops live Fourth of July performance that takes place every year at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade. Instead of the live performance, the Pops will present a televised event in honor of frontline workers and those who have lost their lives due to COVID-19. Walsh did not have a definitive answer on whether there will still be fireworks over the Charles River.

The program, called A Boston Pops Salute to Our Heroes, will be available for viewing and listening on television, radio, and digital media on July 4 starting at 8pm, and features new content from the Boston Pops and guest artists, as well as highlights from Boston Pops Fireworks Spectaculars of the past.

The program will also feature a “newly released video production of John Williams’ Summon the Heroes and other newly created content paying tribute to the healthcare workers, first responders, and other essential service providers who are the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic and honoring the memories of those who have lost their lives during this crisis,” according to a release from the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO).

The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular is one of the City’s most beloved traditions and anticipated annual events,” Mayor Walsh said in a statement. “While a live concert and fireworks display are not possible this year due to the ongoing public health crisis, I am so glad that thanks to a host of partners who were determined to carry on this tradition, the show will go on in a new way. I encourage all residents who look forward to Boston’s Independence Day celebrations to embrace this year’s celebration with us, as we mark another moment in our nation’s history.”

Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart told the Sun that is was a “punch in the gut” to have to announce the cancellation of the in-person event, but “we knew it was coming,” he added.

“The fourth of July is so huge for us,” he said. “Of all the things we’ve had to cancel, this is the biggest blow.”

He said that “years of great shows” has allowed the Pops to put together a “retrospective” show for people to enjoy safely from their own homes. He said it was “important” for the Pops to be there for the Boston community and pay special tribute to the frontline workers, first responders, and “people who have been touched by the virus.”

Lockhart could not confirm whether the entire event will be prerecorded, or if the hosts would be making live announcements during different segments of the program, but confirmed that there will be special messages from community leaders, musical artists, and Lockhart himself. 

“We will muster the 85 members of the Pops to produce a new musical performance,” he added, and hinted that it will probably be something familiar to many instead of a completely original song.“We’ll wait until the dust clears to write the pandemic pieces,” he said.

The Boston Pops have been performing Fourth of July Concerts on the Esplanade since 1929, but became “iconic” in 1974 with the introduction of fireworks and the performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812” Overture, according to the BSO.

Though this is the first time the event will happen solely virtually, it is not the first time the event has been altered in some fashion. In 1986, John Williams and the Boston Pops performed at the centennial rededication ceremony of the Statue of Liberty, causing the Boston fireworks and concert to be moved to the fifth. In 1992, bad weather forced the postponement of the concert until the fifth, in 2012, thunderstorms caused the audience to evacuate, though the fireworks went on as planned, and in 2014, the event was held on July 3 and the concert was shortened to allow the fireworks to go off before Hurricane Arthur hit.

“All of us at the Boston Pops are pleased to have this opportunity to pay tribute to the many and various frontline workers who have been the glue holding our communities together since this health crisis began, and to honor those who have lost their lives due to the coronavirus,” Lockhart said in a statement. “While disappointed not to be able to present our traditional live concert on the Charles River Esplanade, we are putting all our energies into developing a truly special commemorative broadcast event. We hope A Boston Pops Salute to Our Heroes will bring viewers and listeners the consolation, comfort, and inspiration we all seek during these challenging times. Please join us as we show our appreciation for the heroes of this epic crisis and celebrate the meaningful messages of Independence Day that unite us as citizens of this great and beautifully diverse country.”

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