By: Penny Lyons For New England Fine Living
Photography: Brian Sager
“Long ago on a faraway isle, the summer’s biggest musical bash was created”
Kathryn Clauss, a woman with a vision, dreamed of a magical evening of music under the stars 30 miles out-to-sea, to benefit the Nantucket Cottage Hospital. Against all odds, Clauss turned her vision into a reality in 1997, with the first performance of the Boston Pops Orchestra on the prestigious island of Nantucket.
Twenty-one years later, the Pops has become the biggest fundraiser for the non-profit Nantucket Cottage Hospital, raising $2 million each year, with 100% of the proceeds donated directly to the hospital.
Through the generosity of sponsors, Nantucket Island Resorts owners Stephen and Jill Karp and the thousands of volunteers and workers through the years, this tradition has contributed greatly to the capital campaign whose goal has been to build a new hospital. Today, that goal is within view as island residents proudly watch the construction of the new hospital.
The magic begins:
On the given Saturday in August, it’s not unusual to be riding the ferry over to Nantucket alongside musicians holding their tuxedos or black dresses on hangers.
Back at the island, construction of the large stage and the ambitious lighting design miraculously transforms a beautiful summer beach into a spectacular outdoor concert venue. Ninety exquisitely decorated tables are dressed to match the level of elegance of the 1,000 patrons who arrive for this soiree. Making sure that everyone can participate comfortably, various patron opportunities range from underwriters’ tables, to reserved seating tables, to reserved seating theater rows with perks that vary accordingly: reserved parking, cocktail reception, gourmet dinner, entrance to the AfterGlow Party and/or an invitation to the kick-off party that happens in July.
The most popular ticket of the evening is the general admission ticket. The majority of the 8,000 patrons enjoy a $30 admission to the greatest night of the summer. The gates open at 4:30 p.m. to thousands who make their way with friends and families carrying blankets, coolers, and beach chairs. The beautiful expanse of beach swiftly fills with colorful picnics of all kinds, from the elaborate homemade fare to the variety of take-out options offered by local shops, restaurants, and fish markets. This is a great evening to throw a dinner party! I, personally, purchase 10 tickets and invite guests for a “LOBSTA’ at the POPS” picnic, with a call-ahead order for ten ready-to-eat lobsters from our favorite fishmonger. As picnics wind down and the sun sets, the harbor fills with sailboats and yachts of all sizes, swaying in the water, while guests on the beach settle in with wine in hand for an evening of musical bliss.
The entertainment opens with the guest emcee who ignites the night with laughter and introductions. Emcees have included former Nantucket resident, (the late) Tim Russert, Katie Couric, and Chris Mathews to name a few. Guest performers are announced in late spring and have included Broadway and musical stars such as Carly Simon, Brenda Peters, Kenny Loggins, Michael Cavanaugh, Joel Grey, and (the late) Natalie Cole, who have lit up the stage, bringing crowds to their feet. This year, the stage and the audience will be rock ‘n rolling with the “Good, Good, Vibrations” of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, The Beach Boys.
At the conclusion of the concert, bows are taken to encore rounds of applause, but the grand finale of the night is the spectacular fireworks display. The evening’s experience escalates with colorful sparks that light up the night sky and illuminates the harbor. When it’s time to bid adieu, guests depart under a smoke-filled sky, the air still lit with excitement, as they exit the beach singing and dancing. And for those patrons who stay for the AfterGlow Party, the fun continues!
The Boston Pops Concert was the brainchild of Henry Lee Higginson, who founded the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1881. He, like Clauss, also had a vision. In 1885, he conceived the idea of creating casual outdoor summer concerts for the public that would serve a twofold purpose: to provide summer employment for the Boston Symphony Orchestra musicians who were only employed six months out of the year, and to create a lighter, more popular genre of music for concertgoers. For the past 132 years, the Boston Pops Orchestra has delighted millions with a more contemporary music style, championed by its world-renowned conductor, Keith Lockhart, who is celebrating his 23rd year at the helm, making him the second longest tenured conductor in the history of the Pops.