Thousands of residents of the Upper Ohio Valley converge on Heritage Port in downtown Wheeling each year for the annual Fourth of July Celebration presented by the Wheeling Symphony and the city of Wheeling, and this Saturday’s “Celebrate America” performance promises to be better than ever as long as Mother Nature cooperates.
Bruce Wheeler, executive director of the Wheeling Symphony, explained that a backup plan is in place, but because the weather forecast has improved this past week, he is concentrated on the outdoor event.
“I have been watching the Ohio River all week after seeing the water this past Sunday,” Wheeler explained. “Heading into last weekend I was a little bit nervous because of the crest predictions, but it came in lower than expected, so I feel much better about it now.
“If rain doesn’t allow us to do the concert at Heritage Port, the show will go on inside the Capitol Theatre,” he said. “And that’s a decision we will make earlier in the day so we can get the word out to as many people as we can. I would think we would make that call around noon on the Fourth of July, and the announcement will be made on our web page and on our Facebook Timeline.”
The Capitol Theatre was selected as the alternative venue because Wesbanco Arena is currently unavailable to the public.
“At this time there are no seats inside Wesbanco Arena except for the ones that are in a pile on the floor of the arena waiting to be recycled,” Wheeler said. “The interior of Wesbanco Arena is getting the facelift we’ve been hearing about, and the exterior of the building is now fenced off in preparations for the work on the new front façade.
“So the arena area is now a construction site and is not a safe place for the general public, so that’s why we will have the show at the Capitol if the weather determines that’s what we have to do,” he said. “But we are all hoping of the best because this show is always an awesome show when it’s at Heritage Port in front of thousands of people.”
Vocalist Rosena Hill Jackson and trombonist Jason Jackson will join the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra under the baton of conductor Andre Raphel for a rousing and entertaining program of patriotic music and Broadway favorites. Rosena Hill Jackson will sing such songs as “Getting to Know You” from “The King and I,” “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from “Annie Get Your Gun.” The husband-wife duo will be featured on “I Got Rhythm/I Feel Pretty,” and “Tenderly,” and Jason Jackson will be featured for his composition “Brazilian Bop,” as well as “Spring is Here.”
“Most of our core orchestra members come from the Pittsburgh area, and that’s because of the relationships that we have with the Pittsburgh Opera and the Pittsburgh Ballet,” Wheeler said. “These members do not have the full-time job like the members of the Pittsburgh Symphony do. Those folks are contracted musicians who sign agreements to play 39 shows exclusively for the Pittsburgh Symphony.
“That means the members of our orchestra could also play with any of the top-tier orchestras across the country,” he continued. “Some people in the business believe the regional players are better because they are always playing for the next gig, and many of them also teach on the college level. Most of these professional musicians are also freelancers, too, so they are always playing and always mastering their craft.”
The orchestra’s performance will be aided by the new pyrotechnics company that has been hired for this year’s display.
“We’ll need some space behind the stage this year because we have something new for the audience this year,” Wheeler said. “One of the signature pieces that is played every year is the ‘1812 Overture.’ In that piece it calls for cannon fire in a couple of places, and in the past we have used an amplified bass drums for those parts, but it will be different this year because we have a new fireworks company for this year’s show.
“This company is a little more electronically savvy,” he said. “The new company is Pyrotecnico out of New Castle, Pa., and they are providing a trigger to the percussion section so we can have 16 cannon blasts during that piece. I’ve wanted to do that for several years, and this year is the year.”
Concessionaires providing a variety of food and beverage options for a pre-concert holiday picnic will be available starting at 4 p.m.
“Ideal Provisions will be there, and so will Davis Food Express, plus we’ll have gyros, funnel cakes, Dominos, Mmm … Popcorn, plus plenty of other treats for the kids and the adults, too,” Wheeler explained. “What we try to accomplish is to offer something for everyone, and I think we do that each year.”
Wheeler said the fireworks will be launched at a location south of Heritage Port and not from an area near or on the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. Officials of the West Virginia Division of Highways halted the launching two years ago because of a renovation project for the historic span that is scheduled for Fall 2016.
“All of the fireworks will be launched from the south this year, so everyone will need to look left when they hear the first boom,” Wheeler said. “There’s nothing that’s going to be launched to the north near the bridges. We have tried that in the past after the Suspension Bridge was closed, and I don’t think it worked out that well.
“The intention of the company is to make sure that all of the explosions take place directly over the Ohio River, so it should be a comfortable experience for anyone who enjoys a great fireworks display,” he continued. “One of our goals is to improve the event every year, and we feel that this new fireworks company will allow that to happen as long as the weather cooperates.”
The “Celebrate America” tour in Wheeling is possible with generous funding from the city of Wheeling, Project BEST, Riesbeck Food Markets, Inc., the Ohio County Commission, National Road Utility Supply, Inc. (Art and Vicky Musicaro), and the Music Performance Trust Fund.
“There are a lot of fireworks displays that take place in this area throughout the year, but the Fourth of July is the traditional celebration of independence, and we feel it’s important to provide this show for the local residents who attend,” said Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron. “We have contributed the same amount, $40,000, for the past 10 years.
“The Wheeling Symphony Orchestra always puts on a great show, so it’s our intention that their performance be followed by a great fireworks show,” he added. “We wanted to step up so we could offer the best fireworks show in the Upper Ohio Valley.”
Wheeler explained that the city’s contribution flows toward the fireworks while the other expenses are covered by additional sponsors and the Wheeling Symphony.
“The concert itself, plus everything else, amounts to another $25,000, so it’s a pricey endeavor,” he said. “That is why I always suggest that our audience members support our vendors at the Fourth of July Celebration because the folks on the riverside of Water Street are contributing to be part of the event.
“I always ask the people who come to support those who are supporting us by helping to make it an affordable event for the Wheeling Symphony,” he added. “Plus, the food, the beverages, and treats are great.”
Herron said Heritage Port will be cleaned as the receding Ohio River allows. As of yesterday, the very base of the waterfront facility remained under water.
“We had a lot rain in this area during the month of June and there’s nothing anyone can do about the water coming up at Heritage Port,” Herron said. “But as soon as the water goes down, we’ll get it cleaned up as quickly as we can. We’ll just have to wait to see how it is on Friday and Saturday morning.”
The WSO’s “Celebrate America” July tour begins this evening at 7:30 p.m. at the Weirton Event Center. On the Fourth of July, the tour arrives at 7:30 p.m. at Wheeling’s Heritage Port, and continues at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 5, at Canaan Valley State Park in Davis. The tour ends with a 7:30 p.m. concert at the Clarksburg Amphitheater in Clarksburg.