Spectacular night in the park

Keith Lockhart and Branford Marsalis
Conductor Keith Lockhart (left) and Branford Marsalis. Photos by Ralph Stewart

By Anna Marie D'Addarie - August 16, 2007

As many as 5,000 delighted Martha's Vineyard Festival concert-goers, including ticket holders picnicking on the swooping Ocean Park grass and others lining Sea View Avenue and perched on nearby balconies, thrilled to the performances of the Boston Pops, conducted by Keith Lockhart and featuring performers Natalie Cole and Branford Marsalis. Familiar Island neighbors Kate Taylor, Carly Simon, and Elizabeth Witham added a surprise ending to the show.

Inside the temporary fence that encircled the park, the audience got comfortable in beach chairs and on blankets. Picnickers ate everything from simple pieces of fruit to full three-course meals, while children played in the last of the afternoon sun on a day of perfect weather made for a multi-media extravaganza. The mood was happy and relaxed.

Natalie Cole
Natalie Cole wows the Ocean Park audience with a multi-media performance.

Music by the sea

The concert opened with the thrilling music from "Ben Hur," composed by Miklos Rozsa. In his opening remarks, conductor Keith Lockhart said he and the Pops were glad to be back on the Island and he hoped this would be an annual tradition. The audience agreed with loud applause.

The concert continued with music from the orchestra's new CD titled "Oscar and Tony," featuring songs from shows that have won Best Musical Tony awards and Best Picture and Best Score Oscars. Augmenting the powerful and often moving scores were movie stills, posters, and photographs from the shows appearing on two huge screens at either side of the stage.

The sound system was good, and the production team knew just what to accent and when. In the "42nd Street" medley an oboe could be heard and seen at the same time, quite an accomplishment for a sound-design team in a place like Ocean Park and with air heavy with sea mist. In the "Lawrence of Arabia" medley, the balance was so good that each percussion instrument could be heard but not overwhelmingly. Adding another element to the festival, people got up and danced during the "42nd Street" medley. Everyone was having fun.

Branford Marsalis played cool and hot sax to everyone's delight. His sound makes you want to breath in deeply so you don't miss a thing.

Kate Taylor, Carly Simon, and Elizabeth Witham
(From left) Kate Taylor, Carly Simon, and Elizabeth Witham perform at the hospital benefit last Sunday.

Stars and stars

After a short intermission, Natalie Cole appeared. Her bright orange gown made her look every bit the star performer she is. A sentimental favorite was, of course, "Unforgettable," done as a duet with her late father, Nat King Cole. Her songs were interspersed with clips from family home movies and still photos of Ms. Cole as a child. Certainly, a musical highlight was her rendition of Irving Berlin's "Let's Face the Music and Dance."

Guest performers Kate Taylor, her daughter Elizabeth Witham, and Carly Simon sang "Old Cape Cod," accompanied by Mr. Marsalis. Kate Taylor told the audience that the Patti Page tune from the 1950s broke new technical ground by allowing Ms. Page to harmonize with herself. The concert was itself tribute to new technology by offering video (not always necessary, but fun at an outdoor concert); quality sound (hearing each sweet note Mr. Marsalis played); and staging (the portable band shell, trucked in and opened like a huge mollusk in the park).

The finale, Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" was brought to a heart-pumping climax with a giant American flag unfurled behind the orchestra and a starry light show projected on the back of the stage. What a night.

stage
Two large screens flank the stage and light up the night sky in Oak Bluffs for the special concert last weekend to benefit the hospital.

Moving smoothly

For the most part, concertgoers, who arrived early in order to stake out a prime piece of Ocean Park real estate when the gates opened at 4:30 pm, waited patiently in the hot sun despite a delay. One of few complaints was about the $5.50 surcharge added to the $45 advertised cost of each ticket.

One woman in line said she decided to buy her tickets at one of the local outlets rather than online and was surprised and unhappy to learn she would still need to pay the surcharge. A spokesperson for The Festival Network said that outlet surcharges on tickets are normal industry practice.

Oak Bluffs police lieutenant Tim Williamson estimated that a crowd of approximately 5,000 people turned out to watch the Boston Pops perform. Lieutenant Williamson said that almost all of the police force was on duty Sunday night. The Festival Network and not the town picked up the cost of additional officers needed for the event, he said.

Police patrolled the perimeter of the event and helped keep pedestrian and vehicle traffic moving smoothly. Based on a prearranged plan, at the conclusion of the concert, police officers moved to assigned intersections throughout town to direct traffic.