When Toby Keith joins the Boston Pops on the Esplanade on Sunday, there’s one arguably patriotic hit you won’t be hearing. Pops conductor Keith Lockhart says that the country music superstar’s 2002 song “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue (The Angry American)” isn’t quite the spirit of America that they want to convey.
“I’m not going to pull myself down into, you know, Dixie Chicks controversy,” Lockhart says with a slight laugh. “Most of my feeling about the concert is I try to make it patriotic without being jingoistic. ... Patriotic in the sense of celebrating America culturally rather than just making it a big ‘woo-ha!’ celebration.”
So you’re going to be sharing the stage with another Keith.
Yeah, exactly — all we need is Keith Urban, or Keith Partridge, actually.
Or Keith Richards?
Yeah, it’s actually not that common of a name. In fact, I have friend who keeps saying, “So you’re appearing with Keith Urban?” No, it’s Toby Keith! Wrong Keith, right genre.
Is there ever a genre that is harder for you and the Pops to complement?
Yeah, there are, actually. … It’s pretty easy to do like a Steven Tyler thing. The hardest thing we’ve probably ever done on the Fourth of July was Buckwheat Zydeco.
What instrument took the accordion part?
Well, actually, his whole band was there so the accordion took that part. But in terms of that, you bring up another issue; what is there left for us to do? It is so self-contained, and on top of that, the music is so intuitive. These are great musicians but they don’t read a note of music. Nobody ever asks them to read a note of music. And everything is played incredibly intuitively and they make it up as they go along. And that doesn’t work with 80 people in an orchestra. We need to know what is going on; we’re kind of compulsive in that way. Working with Buckwheat Zydeco was one of the great moments, though. It managed to work but it was so scary.
When you’re up there conducting, with your back to the audience, do you ever actually get to see the fireworks?
Yeah, I get to see some of them. Usually by the time I get down from there and wipe the sweat off, they are halfway done. These days, a bunch of us — orchestra players and I — go out to the back porch of the Hatch Shell and look over the water. So yeah, I usually get to see at least the grand finale.