Happy Independence Day, all!

In honor of the occasion, PBS always broadcasts A Capitol Fourth, a free outdoor concert on the west side of the Capitol Building (as they say, check your local listings). Thousands of people attend each year for a fun evening of music and dance from A-list talent. Well, actually, A-, B-, and C-list talent, as well as up-and-coming newbies. As was pointed out, all sacrificed whatever else they might have been doing on the Fourth just to perform for their country.

One little known fact about these A Capitol Fourth productions is that they do a full dress rehearsal the night before, and those are open to the public. So you can see the same performers and the same performances, with a smaller crowd. You also get to see a bit of the sausage-making and technical glitches that don't happen on the live show.

We've gone to the dress rehearsals a time or two in the past, and went last night. Our host was the affable John Stamos, and the music lineup included The Beach Boys, The Four Tops, Trace Adkins, Yolanda Adams, The Blues Brothers, Sam Moore of Sam and Dave, Kellie Pickler and somebody who won The Voice and somebody else who won America's Got Talent, as well as the National Symphony Orchestra and military bands.

There seemed to be more technical glitches to be fixed this time than in other times we've gone. At one point, after Trace Adkins had performed and Stamos was introducing the next act, he stopped dead and said, "Hey, guys, we've got to clear this monitor ... I can't read the TelePrompTer."  It took a few moments, and they started up again, asking the audience to cheer for Trace Adkins as if he had just stopped singing and Stamos re-read his introduction. 

It happened again when he brought out R2-D2 and C-3PO, to introduce a medley of Star Wars music for its 40th anniversary. Something was off in his banter with the droids, and then when the orchestra played, they sounded, quite frankly, awful. I mean, they sounded like not every musician was reading the same sheet music. So R2-D2 and C-3PO were brought out again, and Stamos did the exact same banter.

Then there was Yolanda Adams, who sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" -- beautifully, of course, because she's Yolanda Adams and she's awesome -- and there's a moment where she spontaneously ad-libbed to the audience, "Now for this part, I want you to help me out" ... a spontaneous ad-lib I could see in the script in the TelePrompTer.

The Four Tops performed gamely, although at this point, it's more like The One Top and The Three Bottle Caps, as only one surviving founding member, Duke Fakir, is with them. And The Blues Brothers did have Dan Ackroyd as Elwood, with Jim Belushi as " 'Brother' Zee Blues." They seemed to be having fun, even bringing three women from the audience on stage to dance with them.

I may watch the show tonight to see how it compares -- especially to see if Caitlin joins the Blues Brothers!

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CK, I must have just missed you.  We vacated the Mall just as people started showing up for the rehearsal.  No celebrities for us, alas.  But we had fun watching the Sailor Circus under the Big Top!

Your post reminded me that we always enjoy this broadcast. We'll be watching it.

We didn't watch the entire broadcast, but did see chunks of it. One noticeable difference: the night we were there, no one was allowed to sit on the actual Capitol steps, only on the West Lawn. 

And at the moment when John Stamos introduced Kellie Pickler, he said she had taken ill and doctors told her not to perform, so instead, we're showing footage from her performance at the dress rehearsal. See, there's a reason why they videotape the dress rehearsals!

Just to be sure nobody was fooled, this disclaimer ran throughout: 

Kellie Pickler's performance that you are watching was pre-recorded during the July 3rd dress rehearsal of A Capital Fourth. When it concludes, we will immediately rejoin our live July 4th performances.

I'm sure PBS ran that disclaimer because a couple years ago, it was raining on the 4th, but they put in footage of a non-rainy fireworks display on the national broadcast and took a lot of heat for that. Still, if you watched closely, you saw orange traffic cones and no people on the Capitol steps during Pickler's performance, and the steps full of people during the rest of the show.

One other thing: During the Blues Brothers rehearsal, they "spontaneously" went into the crowd and brought three women on stage to dance with them as they sang "The Land of a Thousand Dances," and gave a lot of attention to one named Caitlin. But during the live show, for about 30 to 45 seconds, they dropped in footage from the dress rehearsal. It was seamless, except for the "Previously Prerecorded" bug in the upper right corner of the screen.

Also, during the live show, the Blues Brothers "spontaneoulsly" went into the crowd, and brought the same three women on stage to dance with them! At least they weren't wearing the same clothes as they were the day before ... 

ClarkKent_DC said:

I'm sure PBS ran that disclaimer because a couple years ago, it was raining on the 4th, but they put in footage of a non-rainy fireworks display on the national broadcast and took a lot of heat for that.

There was a man we knew who watched championship golf on TV. His wife told us that one year he fell asleep and the action was stopped for heavy rain. They showed the previous year’s championship while it was raining, during which he awoke. There was some kind of remarkable play and he told her how amazing it was because the same thing happened last year!

Also, during the live show, the Blues Brothers "spontaneoulsly" went into the crowd, and brought the same three women on stage to dance with them! At least they weren't wearing the same clothes as they were the day before ...

I guess this way they can ensure a smooth performance with professionals rather than rolling the dice with actual audience members. Some people still think that Courtney Cox was spontaneously discovered when invited on stage by Bruce Springsteen. Nope!

We ventured out yesterday for this year's rendition of A Capitol Fourth. This was the first time in two years it was held live, because, y'know, COVID. The host for the evening's festivities is up-and-coming country music star Mickey Guyton, and the lineup includes:

Also present were Broadway royalty Chita Rivera and actor/singer Cynthia Erivo, who is three-fourths of the way to an EGOT (she's got the Emmy, the Grammy, the Tony and two Academy Award nominations, but needs an Oscar win to compete the set).

As before, getting to the site for the dress rehearsal the day before is far easier than going to the actual event, as the crowds are far smaller. Also as before people were not allowed to sit on the actual Capitol steps. (After what happened January 6? Not a chance.)

Since we were there plenty early, we found a shady spot and settled in, as several of the performers went through their number or numbers, sometimes more than once, well before the full-length run-through. I got so settled in, I fell sound asleep and completely missed Cynthia Erivo do "Somewhere" from West Side Story, twice. My wife says she would have woke me up for Broadway royalty Chita Rivera, but when it came time for her bit, Mickey Guyton did it in her stead.

Oddly, during the actual run through, after Broadway royalty Chita Rivera did do her bit -- she introduced a tribute to West Side Story, pointing out that she was the original Anita in the original production 65 years ago(!), and then introduced Mickey Guyton, who was to sing -- there was a half-hour delay. I don't know what was up with Mickey Guyton at that moment, but she eventually sang her number.

Country music star Jake Owen got a little cheeky during his run-through of "Down to the Honkytonk," singing "I got a girl, named Sheila / she goes batsh*t on tequila" as the original lyrics go. But he pledged he would keep it clean for the broadcast; he at least did so for other practice runs of the tune.

Although the main event is at the west front of the Capitol, the production makes use of several locations; the Lincoln Memorial (which marks its 100th anniversary this year), the Jefferson Memorial, and the Capitol Reflectiing Pool. At one point, Yolanda Adams was alone at the Lincoln Memorial, doing a barn-burning rendition of "God Bless America," which made us wonder: How? With the National Symphony Orchestra and Ministers of Music at the Capitol, was she singing acapella at the Lincoln Memorial? I mean, if anybody can sing acapella at the Lincoln Memorial and fill that space, it's Yolanda Adams, but still! (Later, we asked one of the tech guys who told us yes, that's exactly what happened; and she had an earpiece so she could hear the orchestra and choir.)

Another glitch was early on. Just as the dress rehearsal began in earnest, there was an announcement that Darren Criss was not present and we would see a stand-in, as he was the first act. But Criss was expected to arrive after it was over and do his bit, so stick around. Criss is currently engaged in the revival of American Buffalo on Broadway, so presumably he did his Sunday show and caught a train from New York to D.C., as the Capitol is not far from Union Station. But Stand-in Darren Criss (they never told us his name) did a great job, performing "All You Need Is Love" on the mid-crowd stage on guitar, backed by the Ministers of Music, and then striding to the main stage to perform "Don't Stop Me Now" on piano. (But that's why they do these dress rehearsals; if they have to, they'll put on Stand-in Darren Criss during the broadcast.)

As promised, however, the real Darren Criss did show up at the end. We moved closer and were almost within arm's reach, where we could see the carefully scripted witty between-song patter on the teleprompter. The real Darren Criss and Rachel Platten both raised the objection that the piano provided was missing the sustaining pedal, which dampens the sound; maybe they'll fix that or replace the piano before tonight's broadcast. (We heard Rachel Platten rehearsing so many times, I really wished there was a sustaining pedal on that piano to dampen her sound.) That didn't seem to be an issue for Emily Bear, who impressed me with a piano solo rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. She was no Van Cliburn, but she wasn't bad. 

We're out to see fireworks tonight -- one thing they did not provide at the dress rehearsal -- so maybe later we'll watch and see how the pre-show measures up to the real thing. 

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