A July 5 Style article incorrectly said that "A Capitol Fourth" was the Public Broadcasting Service's first high-definition broadcast. It was PBS's first live HDTV broadcast. (Published 7/7/2005)
Remember that election a few months back, and how suddenly you were either blue or red? And how the color-coding has sharpened since, thanks to the Ten Commandments and judicial nominees and gay marriage? Leave it to the United States to ignore it all for a rockin' party -- one where everyone is all red, all white, all blue.
In truth, the only divisiveness at the "Capitol Fourth" concert last night stemmed from how you say the last name of a certain Latin diva.
"We've got Gloria ES-te-fan!" cried perpetual host Barry Bostwick at the top of the show.
"Now, the recipients of this year's National Artistic Achievement Award, Gloria and Emilio es-TE-fan!" boomed presenter Jimmy Smits at the end.
Pronunciations varied throughout, but everyone seemed otherwise united for America's big 2-2-9, celebrated on the West Lawn of the Capitol by waves of patriots, mini flags sewn into their hats and hair, swaying in the twilight's last gleaming.
Savannah Haworth came from Marietta, Ga., with her mother, Kathy, to see Estefan.
"Last time Savannah was here was for George W's first inauguration," Kathy Haworth said, bookmarking her copy of David McCullough's "1776." "It's a whole different venue from snow-covered -- "
" -- to green grass," finished Savannah, 11, dueling flags jittering on her head.
Estefan drew the biggest reaction from the throngs, performing "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You" and fending off shrieks of "I LOVE YOU, GLORIA" from die-hards tiered on the Capitol steps.
"What an awesome sight this is," she said after receiving the award from Smits, who also introduced the National Symphony Orchestra and a suite from "Revenge of the Sith."
Bostwick held court from a spangled pulpit, flopping between sugary introductions and glib history lessons about the Declaration of Independence. Who knew that John Adams once predicted the Fourth of July would become a day of "pomp and parade, bonfires and fireworks"?
But that's what it was on the West Lawn (minus, of course, open flames), as the Beach Boys boogied through standards like "Surfin' USA," led by original member Mike Love and whatever cadre of middle-aged white guys happen to be in the band at present.
As fluidly as the show ran, its sheer scope and fervor made performing at the epicenter of democracy a daunting task.
"I was nervous," Bostwick said on Sunday, recalling his first time as emcee eight years ago. "I was a little like Kimberley Locke at rehearsal. You basically hyperventilate and pass out, so you try to stay hydrated and not go down."
Locke fainted during Sunday's dry run, but made it through the national anthem upright last night, making her the second consecutive "American Idol" loser from Season 2 to open the show.
Hold on, hecklers: You try not fainting with the cranium of the Capitol looming behind an exultant crowd of hundreds of thousands, while tens of millions watch at home, every missed cue emergent and precise on high-definition TV and in Dolby 5.1 sound.
Though "A Capitol Fourth" has been around for a quarter-century, this was the first time the concert (or any show on PBS) was broadcast in HDTV and Dolby. Fifteen cameras covered the event, from the cranes swooping over the audience to the burly guy weaving around singers with a Steadicam to the stationary cameras in Rosslyn and the Washington Monument catching cityscapes and fireworks. Every step of the event was orchestrated from a nearby Winnebago outfitted like NASA mission control.
"What I'm trying to do is make it feel like the Olympics," said concert founder and executive producer Jerry Colbert the day before the event. "I want you to feel like you're a part of this national extravaganza."
Or part of a love train, as it were. Soul trio the O'Jays, breezy in tank tops and red pants, swished through "I Love Music" and "Love Train" as the crowd joined hands. Sharon Lawrence added a little vaudeville with a brassy medley of "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "Come Follow the Band," Irish tenor Ronan Tynan added a little brogue with "God Bless America," and quartet phenom Il Divo added a little bit of boy band.
The night closed with Tchaikovsky's rollicking "1812" Overture, featuring live cannon fire, and Bostwick's rendition of "America the Beautiful," which had been trimmed to bring down the show's running time.
Despite these on-the-fly rearrangements, the night wasn't heavy lifting for the Choral Arts Society, which backed the acts with phrase-echoing and monosyllabic whoops.
" 'Reach higher, be stronger, ooh. Reach higher, be stronger, ooh," deadpanned soprano-alto Donna Simonton, skimming her score for an Estefan song during Sunday's rehearsal. "Over and over. And then there's the 'Ahs' all through 'Star Wars.' "
And all through the ensuing fireworks display, too -- "oohs" and "ahs," and reds, whites and blues.