It was Garner’s tenth big Independence Day bash – at Lake Benson Park, on the eve of our national holiday. A huge crowd, said to have been 18,000 people (or more), was on hand, as were various dignitaries, including Congressman Bob Etheridge (2nd District), Representative Deborah Ross (NC House District 38), Garner Mayor Sam Bridges and members of its Board of Aldermen and administration, and Laura Hutfless, Miss Garner 2005. The fireworks display was probably the big draw, but the prelude to them was provided by the NC Symphony, which gave an all-American program of what conductor William Henry Curry characterized as “musical ‘red meat’ – nothing but faves!” That’s true, and despite the often noisy crowd, and the less-than-ideal performing conditions – it was hot and humid – the overall effect was marvelous. The bandstand resembled the one used in Cary in pre-Booth Amphitheatre days, and the amplified sound was outstanding – better, indeed, that at Summerfest on some occasions. One could hear clearly throughout the park, but at no point did the music seem too loud. It’s always a pleasure to revisit Garner, where several CVNC critics including this writer grew up. The Town has changed a good bit – when we moved to one of its “suburbs” in 1954, the Town itself was little more than a bend in the road by the railroad tracks, with just two public eateries on the “north” side….

Things got underway with the National Anthem, presented in Damrosch’s famous orchestral version. It wasn’t the tune’s last appearance of the evening – the concert ended with Victor Herbert’s admirable “American Fantasia,” which incorporates “The Star-Spangled Banner” in its finale. In a noteworthy nod to the fine Down East composer and conductor Steven Errante and to the great warship preserved in Wilmington, the orchestra the played the “Battleship North Carolina March,” which has been in and out of the NCS’s repertoire for some time. An arrangement of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” juxtaposed with a quotation from “Dixie” that appeared in the concluding Herbert medley, reminded this listener – and surely others, too – that we are truly One Nation now – these were heartwarming touches in a remarkable example of superior program making for a special occasion. The evening’s most serious fare – and it wasn’t at all burdensome(!) – came in the form of excerpts from Copland’s Appalachian Spring and Rodeo, cuts the orchestra has been playing a lot of late but that are always welcome. Music by Gershwin and Berlin – one had to chuckle at hearing “White Christmas” on the 4th of July – and Meredith Willson led handsomely to the Herbert number. We were spared the ubiquitous “1812” Overture (but read on…); instead, “Stars and Stripes Forever” prefaced the fireworks display, during which still more people poured into the park.

There’s more today (7/4), of course – the NCS puts on its annual holiday program in Cary, where the orchestra will share the stage with the US Army Band known as “Pershing’s Own,” from Fort Meyer, VA. The NCS does the first half, the service musicians, the second, and the two ensembles then join forces for the aforementioned Tchaikovsky chestnut. The free show starts at 7:30 p.m. but if you’re planning to attend, go early – to secure a reasonably close parking place and to witness various dunkings and other quasi-colonial delights. As noted in our calendar,  the dunkees include Lawrence Speakman, Artistic Director of the Concert Singers of Cary, and the Hon. Tom Hemrick, Chair of the Town of Cary’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Advisory Board.