With unseasonably cool temperatures augmented by a summer breeze that was not at all typical for a Fourth of July in Southern California, the city of Burbank Parks and Recreation staff, scores of volunteers, Burbank police and fire officers, food vendors, entertainers and pyrotechnic professionals were all doing their last-minute checks as the sun began its descent over the Starlight Bowl last Tuesday.
Overseeing the final preparations for an evening that would include a flyover, food, music and a fireworks show to celebrate America’s 247th birthday, Recreation Services Manager Erin Barrows, Deputy Parks Director Kris Smith and Senior Recreation Leader Jocelyn Navarro gave the thumbs up to open the bowl’s gates shortly after 5 p.m.
Welcomed by Amy Hammes of the Burbank Recycle Center and volunteers from the Burbank Veterans Committee led by Mickey DePalo, each person in the throng were handed a small American flag upon entrance.
Celebrating the Fourth of July at the Starlight Bowl has become a tradition for many Burbankers, including Rey and Gema Sanchez, who were accompanied by their son Trey, daughter Veronica St. Clair, who plays the role of Riley Velez on the NBC drama “La Brea,” and her beau Michael Bradway.
“We have been coming here as a family since the kids were very young,” said Gema. “They wouldn’t know a Fourth of July that didn’t include celebrating at the Starlight Bowl.”
Once the full house settled, the evening’s festivities got underway with recent John Burroughs High School grad Chloe Barthelemy’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a flyover by the Condor Squadron.
Making it a true “Beautiful Day,” the event’s entertainment kicked off with a performance by Hollywood U2, a U2 tribute band that features Joe Hier as Bono.
Having been honored with the Hollywood FAME Producers Choice Award for an outstanding U2 tribute band and nominated as Best Tribute Band by the L.A. Music Awards, Hollywood U2 was also selected to perform on Mark Cuban’s show “The World’s Greatest Tribute Bands.”
Following a brief intermission, the evening’s main event had the sold-out crowd on their feet and celebrating being “Born in the USA” as The Rising, which pays homage to Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, presented the music of “The Boss” portrayed by Tom Vitorino, Steven Van Zandt as interpreted by John Doran, and the late Clarence “The Big Man” Clemons, performed by Tim Miles.
The evening, which concluded with a fireworks extravaganza, was not only a perfect way to end the celebration, but it also left an emotional impact on Vitorino.
“Playing the Starlight Bowl on the Fourth was a spiritual experience,” he said the following day. “I have never been that close to a fireworks show in my life, and that just made it all the more magical.”
Having arrived early that afternoon to do a sound check, Vitorino said he always likes to walk around a venue prior to playing.
“I walked up on the grass area and just took it all in,” said the man who has been portraying Springsteen on stage for 23 years. “It’s like an intimate Hollywood Bowl with a vibe that reminds me of the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado.”
Vitorino said from the moment he walked out on the Starlight Bowl’s stage he felt an energy that is rare.
“The show had a very unique and moving tone for me, right from the start,” he said. “The audience was deeply into what we were doing. I could feel that intensity and when we did ‘My Hometown’ I looked out and saw some people crying.”
Saying he was especially touched by the communal spirit of the evening, Vitorino was moved numerous times during his performance.
“As a society we have, sadly, become such isolationists that it was emotional for me to see all those people sitting on those benches, right next to one another, and really into the music,” he added. “I specifically remember at one point, the lights hit in such a way that all I could see were the shadows of thousands of people on the bowl’s rocky sides. The entire night was magical for me, and Erin (Barrows) and her crew were all so positive. That really set the tone for us right from the time we arrived.”
With the Starlight Bowl’s 2023 Summer Concert Series now officially under way, Saturday night’s show will feature Yachtley Crew and Wayward Sons.
On Saturday, July 22, Starlight bowl favorites The Fab Four will be joined by The Monkee Men to bring back The Beatles and The Monkees. The month will then conclude with tributes to The Eagles by The Long Run and Linda Ronstadt by Ronstadt Revival on Saturday, July 29.
Saturday, Aug. 5, will bring Bruno and the Hooligans to the Starlight’s stage along with Prince Again’s tribute to Prince, with the series finale taking place on Saturday, Aug. 12, featuring Queen Nation’s tribute to Queen and The K-Tell All Stars.
For more information on the Starlight Bowl and to get tickets, visit starlightbowl.com.
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at email@example.com or (818) 563-1007.
First published in the July 8 print issue of the Burbank Leader.