I have a confession to make: I have absolutely no desire to go to the Hatch Shell for the Fourth of July ever again. I have friends who consider it their favorite holiday and look forward to spending 12 hours sitting on a beach blanket and eating Chex Mix until the musical acts come out. That’s fine. But for me, the whole thing has lost its luster. Until me and my buddies are rich enough to afford sailboats that we can raft together on the river, flotilla style, I’m just not interested in the whole shebang. Except for one part: who they pick for musical guest.
For those who aren’t Boston vets, this event is one of the city’s big draws, probably ranking even higher than New Year’s in terms of the absolute bottleneck that ensues after the festivities. Every year, thousands (probably) turn up to the Giant Hollowed Out Half Circle and bake in the sun in anticipation of one of the most violently engrained of American rituals. It ends with fireworks, it begins with sunstroke, and in between will come awkward newscasters, overpriced food and, of course, the visiting musician.
While I haven’t been able to find a complete list of those who’ve shown up to help out in this regard, there seem to be two unofficial rules: whoever the artist is, they must a) have at least one song with “America” or “U.S.A” in the title, and b) until recently, be as famous or less than Craig Ferguson, who probably hasn’t hosted that many of these things but he’s done at least the two that I remember most vividly, so too bad. It also helps if the act in question is Boomer-friendly, or at least vaguely familiar to Boomers through the music of their kids, which is the only reason I can imagine Rascal Flatts being there.
This year, the Pops invited the reunited Beach Boys, the rare guest that didn’t have me pummeling things in annoyance after two songs and actually understayed their welcome. But since the storm cut the show off prematurely, we can only guess which songs about surfing or America or surfing in America they would have chosen for their big finale.
And while we’re guessing, how about we get to the whole point of this post? None of the following are probably going to appear with on Boston’s sweatiest stage anytime this century, but we can all dream.
5) George Clinton (and anyone he wants to bring with him)
In 2011, the Pops got THIS close to getting Lionel Richie onstage, which would have been pretty awesome, but he had to drop out at the last minute, presumably fainting onto a couch while batting his eyelashes rapidly. It’s debatable whether Richie as a solo act counts as a funk artist, but the Commodores were certainly funkalicious, so why not go all the funkin’ way into that funk-territory by nabbing the weirdo funky sun at the center of the Funkiverse? Funk funk funk funk. You could give the whole event a new spin by tacking “funk” onto all the proper nouns involved, and that’s more fun(k) for the whole family than counting the number of organic hair folicles still on Neil Diamond’s skull. Heck, while you’re at it, try and rustle up as many members of Parliament as you can fit in the Mothership, giant smoking skull puppets and all. I’d pay full price for just twenty minutes of pure Bootsy.
4) Ted Nugent
We’re taking a pretty big jump here, but like it or not, the Nuge is as American as overly large soul patches, firearms and shitty VH1 reality shows, so why not? Aside from the fact the fact that I probably disagree with him politically on everything, though lord knows that hasn’t stopped the Pops from picking an act before. I personally am just aching to hear an orchestra backing “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang.” Hey, they’ve already had Toby Keith and John Cougar Mellencamp, so clearly powers that be aren’t averse to scary-looking guys with guitars and cowboy hats. If you’re starting down that road, might as well go the whole way.
3) Laurie Anderson
She’s about as pop as a performance artist can be, and just think of the havoc she could wreak with a classical ensemble on her side and more than 100,000 audience members. I mean, you can’t tell me that if the Pops went from cheerful host banter to a lecture about the velocity of giant sperm or something, you wouldn’t perk up. I’d love to hear from anyone who can interpret Yankee Doodle as “a surrealist masterpiece” and you know you everyone watching would too. Just think of the enlightening conversations you could have with Grandma during the traffic jam to get home later!
2) Tom Waits
Recently I saw a production of The Tempest at the ART featuring Waits’ songs, and when I told a friend about it he said something like, “did Tom Waits play the tempest?” He didn’t, but he certainly could on the Boston holiday stage, especially if he did so in his revolutionary and controversial “Cookie Monster” persona.
1) Judas Priest
Yeah, they’re British. So what? They have a kickass song called “United” that I bet everyone would shout along with despite the funny accents. I get the feeling that this wasn’t written to celebrate the birth of American independence, but if you scream “STATES!” during the chorus I’m sure no one will notice.