Under a full moon, thousands gathered on Tuesday evening at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond to celebrate the 4th of July a day early. Richmond’s annual fireworks show drew spectators from cities around the Bay Area. “Hercules and Pinole used to have shows, but due to budget cuts we don’t anymore. So we heard there were fireworks here and came out,” said Mark Shalz of Hercules, who came to watch the show.
The pavilion overflowed with audience members clustering in seats and eating homemade food atop blankets while they watched local performers before the fireworks. Hilltop Community Church Choir opened the show at 6:30 pm with some light gospel music, followed by young musicians from Oaktown Jazz Workshops who performed be-bop, standards and jazz classics. The eight young jazz players ranged from ages 12 to 17, and have been with Oaktown Jazz for one to five years. Robbie Abcarian, the executive director and an instructor on hand that night said, “It went very well. I’m very proud of them. They’re great young performers.” The large venue wasn’t quite full at the time the students went on, but he said they were still a little anxious about performing, especially since the show was broadcast on the Jumbotron. “They knew it was there and that added to their nervousness,” he said.
The crowning performance—perhaps possibly eclipsing the fireworks—was by the Oakland East Bay Symphony. Lead by music director and conductor Michael Morgan, the full orchestra played patriotic music and World War II-era crowd favorites and encouraged the audience to continue the tradition of singing along to the music. During the opening song—“The Star Spangled Banner”—the audience stood together, hand over heart and provided lyrics to the instrumentation. Listeners bobbed along, sang out loud and in some cases danced in the aisles to the very popular “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and a medley from “The Sound of Music.”
The Oakland East Bay Symphony, founded in 1988, is a critically acclaimed and nationally recognized orchestra. Its mission is to bridge the gap between live classical music and people in communities who have little to no exposure to symphonic music. It is composed of nearly one hundred professional musicians, but on this night they included a few young performers.
Cristabel Nunoo, age 17, was one of the show stealers of the night. She stepped on stage in a sparkling bright pink full-length gown that stood in sharp contrast to the musicians behind her dressed in black and white tuxedoes. During her performance of “Oklahoma,” the range and control over her voice showed years of maturity. After her last high note, the audience quickly got to their feet and delivered her the first standing ovation of the night.
After Nunoo, Chloe Ma—a petite 11-year-old pianist—sat down at the grand piano on center stage. Ma wore a very solemn expression as she stretched her fingers and waited for her cue. With great composure she played through the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and once again elicited a standing ovation from the room full of thousands.
“I think it’s great,” said Ed Oasa, following Ma’s performance. “Having the youth perform really adds to it. I like them best.”
In addition to listening to the musical performances, guests were encouraged to visit the new Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center, which stayed open late for the occasion. The visitor center is a national park created at Ford Point to educate the public about the service of women who worked in factories here and across the nation during World War II. “I come every year for the symphony and fireworks, but this is my first time in here,” said Irena Vaysberg, a Russian transplant living in Walnut Creek. “It’s an interesting history. In Russia we have the same history during World War II,” she said comparing women in America who joined the wartime production workforce to those in Russia who did the same.
Outside along the water, hundreds gathered on blankets and chairs around coolers packed full with elaborate picnics. For many this was not their first show, and they came prepared to get through the windy evening in order to obtain prime firework viewing spots. Speakers lined the perimeter of the pavilion to ensure these guests could also enjoy the music. Around 9 o’clock thousands inside joined the outdoor audience and packed the pier to watch the fireworks from Marina Bay erupt over the water. “Oohhs” and “Ahhs” also filled the air, as the Oakland East Bay Symphony played “Stars and Stripes Forever” to close the show.
Target, along with contributing sponsors City of Richmond, Chevron, Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau, provided funding to keep the annual celebration free and open to the public.