Patriotic Pops to synchronize fireworks, ASO

Posted: July 3, 2014 at 2:03 a.m.

Philip Mann conducts the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra for last year’s Pops on the River. This year’s concert will incorporate a patriotic singalong and, for the first time, a joint symphony-fireworks performance.

Some things that are great on their own become even more fabulous when they're mixed together, like chocolate and peanut butter. At this year's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Pops on the River, two of its biggest components are going to be mashed together for the first time to create something organizers hope will be magical.

"This year we're really working with the symphony and our new firework company to perform together," event director Tabitha Cunningham says.

Pops on the River

Noon-10 p.m. Friday, River Market pavilions and First Security Amphitheater

Admission: Free

(501) 378-3807

Last year they tried to coordinate on just one song, but this year they're aiming for a much more substantial collaboration with the pops and flashes of the fireworks and the pomp and circumstance of the ASO working in tandem.

Of course, the ASO concert and fireworks are the finale to a day full of events and activities that Cunningham calls "a traditional festival for the Fourth of July. It's really family focused. It's really laid back."

When the festival starts at noon, guests will be able to shop among the merchant vendor booths, learn about Fiats in their pavilion, place a vote in the Pops Classic Car Show and listen to music by performers such as Jeremy Geyer, Valley Ray and Northeast Northwest. Uncle Sam will perform magic tricks and make balloon animals and Cunningham promises "food trucks galore."

There's also an entire area devoted to children at the Kids Pavilion, where bounce houses, crafts and games rule.

While most activities are free, some do have fees, like the $10 caricatures by John Deering and the $1-$3 face painting. Those proceeds go to support Our House Children's Center.

This year, there will be a particular focus on the military with a new military appreciation tent, where active, retired and reserve military members can show an ID and receive a discount card.

In the Kids Pavilion, children are invited to write letters and color pictures to send to servicemen and from 5:30-9:30 p.m., guests can record video messages to send overseas.

The early portion of the festival is very loose and laid back, but once the amphitheater gates open at 5:30 p.m., some restrictions will be in place: no dogs, no coolers, no outside food or drinks.

Cunningham encourages people to plan to get there early to claim a seat because "It gets really packed. There's only so much amphitheater seating, but there's tons of lawn seating."

Some amphitheater seating reservations are available for $10 each.

The evening concert starts with the sixth annual Oh Say! Can You Sing? competition to determine who will sing the national anthem with the ASO.

Then, at 7 p.m., there will be a special treat. Pops on the River was chosen as the July 4 performance venue for the Air National Guard Band of the Southwest.

"We're really excited to have them," Cunningham says. "It really does emphasize our continued focus on the military and honoring them."

They will perform a 45-minute concert of patriotic and "Americana" songs before turning the stage over to the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.

As before, there will be an Armed Forces Salute -- a medley of the theme songs for the branches of the military with a representative member of each branch stepping forward and saluting.

"I have chill bumps because it's such a cool thing to see," Cunningham says. "That's what it's all about for us."

Arkansas Flag and Banner is providing about 1,000 American flags for audience members to wave during a traditional patriotic singalong led by the ASO and vocalists from the Air National Guard Band. Because there will be a limited number of flags, guests are encouraged to take their own.

The fireworks are set to go off a little earlier than usual this year to make the ASO-fireworks performance possible.

While many people like to watch the fireworks from one of the bridges or from North Little Rock or the Clinton Presidential Center, Cunningham points out that this new element ought to convince some to change their plans and make the trip to the amphitheater for the full effect.

"I think that's going to be a really magical thing to see," she says. "That's why they need to come out to this event to see it. It's the only place you can see it."

Weekend on 07/03/2014