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Pops For July 4th

Charla Nash, sometime before her face was ripped off by a 200-pound chimpanzee in Feb. 2009.
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For his ninth season, conductor Keith Lockhart will lead over 80 musicians in a celebration of the nation's independence.

The Boston Pops Orchestra performs its annual Fourth of July concert from the hatch shell on the Charles River Esplanade in Boston.

The Early Show co-anchor and host of the CBS special Harry Smith spoke with Lockhart Friday morning to find out the plans for the annual Boston Pops Fourth of July Celebration, the future of the Boston Pops and their musical tradition.

This year's broadcast is a first for CBS, who will carry the final hour of "The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular" nationwide at 10 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. CT. 179 military bases around the world will also see the show via the American Forces Network.

Lockhart says, "This is the one thing we do of the 130 concerts we do a year that transcends being a concert event. It is a sociological phenomenon. There's something so huge to have a 500,000 people in the live audience, millions along nationwide. It's an honor to be central to so many people's experience of the holiday."

Lockhart is at the helm for his ninth season, triumphantly carrying the torch of Arthur Fiedler, the 18th conductor of the Boston Pops who single-handedly made this July 4th free outdoor concert on the esplanade an American institution. Fiedler conducted the Pops orchestra for 50 years.

Lockhart says, "I no longer feel like a teenager who has borrowed somebody's car who will take it back from me. It's funny, it's been televised, the Big Boston Fourth of July celebration, is 27-28 years old. And I'm working on having done half of them by this point."

The concert was first presented by Fiedler with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1929. Lockhart, the 20th conductor for the Boston Pops, says nine years are just a drop in the bucket.

"It amazing to think looking at the tenure of Arthur Fiedler, 50 years," he says. "But I am at point I don't think you try to make something your own. You work with it, honor the tradition and eventually your personality rubs off."

Lockhart notes the symphony always wants to play music for a wider public that doesn't know they are real classical music fans and there are songs that everyone sings along to like "the patriotic sing-along, which has almost every patriotic song from 'Yankee Doodle' to 'God Bless America.'"

"People sing to everything, though," he says.

But there are pieces that literally bring people to their feet like the orchestra's signature tune, "Stars and Stripes Forever."

"We like to think it was written for us, it wasn't, but we were the first orchestra to play it. It's been a band piece up to that point. That's going back just a little over 100 years," says Lockhart.

"We celebrated that centennial a while ago. The end of '1812,' [Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture] the big ending has a false entrance for the music, five minutes or so before that in the piece. Everybody starts cheering at that point in anticipation of all of the noise."

A sea of people starts to converge in the esplanade early Friday morning to spend the day and get ready for the free concert. Some people slept overnight to get good seating.

"Those are the people who we see as the audience. All the way back to what you can see and hear is only the first 20,000, 25,000 people of 400,000 or 500,000 person crowd," says Lockhart. "These are the people we perceive as the live audience and they make the investment to be here, 12, 16, 24 hours in advance. By the time we play, they are so ready to party. The energy is palpable. We feed on that. That's what performers do."

The night's celebration will also have some guest singers performing. Country singer LeAnn Rimes is scheduled to perform "We Can," from the soundtrack to the new movie "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde." The Mormon Tabernacle Choir will perform their signature piece, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Along with the Boston Pops, both Rimes and the Tabernacle choir will sing, "America the Beautiful" and "Stars and Stripes Forever."

For those in the Boston area, WBZ-TV will give extended local coverage of "The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular" from 8:30 to 10 p.m. ET.