Setting the Stage for the Star-Spangled Spectacular

The Cleveland Orchestra Celebrates 25 Years of Free Concerts at Public Square

Each year, the Cleveland Orchestra provides a birthday present to our nation -- and in particular to the Northeast Ohio community -- with a free concert at Public Square in honor of Independence Day. And each year, the planning for that concert begins the day after the previous year’s concert. That leaves only 364 days to put together a massive celebration for tens of thousands of people starring the finest orchestra in the world.

On Wednesday, July 2, the Orchestra will celebrate its 25th presentation of this beloved event, known as the Star-Spangled Spectacular. This event has a longstanding history of public support, initially from Cuyahoga County and for the past eight years from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. "A free concert by our own Cleveland Orchestra is a fantastic way for residents of Cuyahoga County to celebrate Independence Day.” said CAC Executive Director Karen Gahl-Mills. “This event is just one example of the thousands of programs that receive support from CAC each year. We want the residents of the County to know that this is their concert which is made possible because of their investment in arts and culture in our region.

”Blossom Festival conductor Loras John Schissel, who conducts this year’s concert, says, “For the 25th anniversary, we also wanted to salute the community and the people who call Cleveland home,” which helped guide the selection of the remaining pieces. For example, the theme to the movie “Superman” celebrates the Cleveland creators of that comic book hero, and is also a nod to the region’s burgeoning film industry. The folk favorite, Oh Shenandoah, evokes that large body of water gracing our City’s north coast -- Lake Erie -- which Schissel describes as “an omnipresent, silent observer” of Cleveland life. And a Revolutionary War marching tune called Chester harkens back to the days when this area was known as the Western Reserve.

Putting together the repertoire and choosing the conductor is only one item on the Orchestra staff’s lengthy “to-do” list that includes partnering with dozens of entities to make sure the event runs smoothly. First on the list is a permit from the City of Cleveland for the use of public space. Meetings with RTA officials must take place in order to re-route buses around the area in the days leading up to the concert.

Building the stage, which has to be assembled and torn down within a 24-hour time span, is an all-hands-on-deck event. And don’t even ask about the logistics of trucking in the 27-foot tall Jumbotron that displays the concert to the crowd. Suffice to say, it’s a good idea to make sure that the fountains are turned off for the day to protect all of the electronic equipment involved.

Mounting the fireworks display involves clearing the use of the BP Building as a launch pad and notifying restaurants with outdoor seating that they may be in the potential “fall zone.” Coordinating with security personnel at Tower City Center and the Cleveland Police Department is also a must.

And because people begin to filter down to Public Square as early as 5 pm in order to stake out a good spot, it’s critical to have plenty of restrooms available, as well as food and entertainment while everyone waits for the main event.

This year, a lineup of Cleveland’s popular gourmet food trucks will be on hand to provide a variety of cuisines to concertgoers. And beginning at 7 pm, the crowd can watch a succession of videos broadcast on the Jumbotron featuring area bands and music groups who were invited to submit their short videos as part of an Orchestra initiative called “Make Music!”

Joan Katz Napoli, director of education and community programs for the Orchestra, says, “We had all kinds of groups submit videos, ranging from church choirs to garage bands, barbershop quartets, marching bands, and even a ukulele group. It should be very entertaining.”

Says Katz, who has attended the concert for many years, “What I love most about this concert is the variety of people who come. You’ve got everybody from every walk of life all sitting together and enjoying the same music under the stars.”
Schissel, who has conducted numerous concerts with the Cleveland Orchestra over the past 20 years, echoes those sentiments. “What I love about Cleveland is that the people here support their orchestra as much as their sports teams. That doesn’t always happen in the other towns I visit. It’s such an honor and a privilege to make music with the members of this orchestra. These are the Babe Ruths, the Picassos of the orchestra world, and they are the same people you see in your community, at your grocery stores. They are part of what makes Cleveland a great place to visit and to call home.

”What To Know If You Go:
-Take public transportation if at all possible, as parking is very limited. Find your route:
-Check the forecast, and bring your resilient Cleveland weather attitude – and an umbrella. Even if it has been raining, the concert often goes on as planned if it dries up in time.
-Consider bringing a folding chair or blanket.
-If you come early, visit the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which is open on July 2 from 10 am - 9 pm. Tours are free. For more information:
-The concert starts promptly at 9 pm (weather permitting), and is simulcast on radio stations 90.3 WCPN and WCLV 104.9. It ends around 10:15 after the fireworks display.
-If you like what you hear, check out the summer schedule for Blossom Music Festival. More patriotic favorites are on tap for July 3 and 4, and the regular summer schedule begins July 5. Check out the lineup at:

by: Jennfer Proe. Photos courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra. Photos by Roger Mastroianni