Doused in red—from the roses lining the stage to the tablecloths draped over donors’ tables to the glowsticks given to audience members to the almost burgundy backdrops to student performer Molly Cahill’s, MCAS ’19, red hair to Lionel Richie’s red jacket—the 26th annual Pops on the Heights raised $13 million for 431 student scholarships on Friday night.
That number is slightly down from the record-setting 2017 edition of the gala, which pulled in a record-shattering $14 million, but sits comfortably as the second-most successful edition of the evening in its now over quarter-century long history. Just under $72 million has now been raised in total over the event’s run.
Adding some tension to the evening, the Boston College Graduate Employees Union (BCGEU-UAW) held two protests before the event began, interrupting a parents’ weekend event University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., was speaking at and picketing outside Conte Forum before Pops on the Heights began.
“This is 7,000 members of one close knit family,” said John Fish, co-chair of Pops on the Heights 2018 in his opening remarks. “It’s a commitment to something much greater than ourselves.”
The event was, indeed, a commitment and tribute to everything BC—a celebration of the students, parents, and donors who have helped build up the community. Drone footage of BC’s campus was projected onto the displays, often in rhythm with the music being played by the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, directed by Keith Lockhart. During “Lonely Town,” impressive videos of a wintery BC at Christmastime floated across the screens. The glimmering lights of the tree in the projection matched the deep blue glow of the lights shining down on the audience. At times, all the displays showed grandiose stained glass windows in great deal, reflecting back down onto the crowd.
Despite the stately aura all this gave off, the night was not to be a quiet, conservative affair.
”I know you were all expecting a distinguished evening,” featured performer Lionel Richie said as he took the stage later in the night. “But that ain’t gonna happen.”
This year’s event was a tribute to american composer Leonard Bernstein. Most people don’t know that the first orchestra he ever conducted was, in fact, the Boston Pops. The Pops paid homage to the famed West Side Story conductor with performances of “Lonely Town,” “Galop,” “Mambo,” “Something’s Coming,” and “Make Our Garden Grow,” which featured the University Chorale.
Cahill graced the stage in an elegant green gown to sing a powerful rendition of Bernstein’s “Someday, Somewhere,” and her impressive voice earned her a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd.
After Cahill’s performance, the Dance Organization of Boston College (DOBC) joined the Pops and Chorale for a fun, upbeat medley of ’60s sing-along songs that included “Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins and Messina, “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy” by Manfred Mann, and “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night. During “Joy to the World,” DOBC, clad in red sequined dresses, performed an impressive kickline dance. By the time the group reached Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary,” everybody was standing up and dancing.
After the intermission, Richie took command of the stage. BC awarded Richie an honorary degree in music in 1986, so it wasn’t his first time on the Heights.
“I’m back home with my family,” he told the audience.
His energy-packed set had the entire audience dancing and singing along. The Pops played throughout his performance, which was impressive because Richie’s music had to be set for each individual instrument. He started off with “Easy Like Sunday Morning,” and when he struck the first piano chord, a cheer went up from the audience before it began to sing along.
Richie garnered a huge applause as he sang the popular Commodores song “Three Times a Lady,” accompanied by a skilled harmonica player and backed by the Pops. The song led into “On the Ceiling,” which caused plenty of excitement throughout Conte Forum, and then on “Hello,” Richie hardly had to sing because the audience was already singing it so loud. For the finale of his set, Richie sang “All Night Long,” which stretched far beyond its typical radio run-time, letting people dance and “express themselves,” as Richie said.