20 Years of POPS -August 2016

by: Lindsay Pykosz

photography by: Jim Powers

Imagine having your feet in the sand, listening to an orchestra whose history spans 131 years, enjoying a picnic right by the water and seeing some of the most spectacular fireworks go off once the sun dips below the horizon.

For the past 20 years, Nantucket Cottage Hospital has made that a reality for the 8,000 people who gather on Jetties Beach for the Boston Pops on Nantucket concert. The event, which happens every August, serves as the major fundraiser for the hospital, with all money raised being used to sustain the facility’s yearround commitment to the health and wellbeing of the island’s residents and visitors.

This year’s concert is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 13.

“It goes directly to fill the gap between the high fixed costs of care here on the island and the reimbursement for a low-volume hospital,” Dr. Margot Hartmann, president and CEO of the hospital, said of the $1.5 million to $2 million the concert annually brings in. “It literally keeps operations alive. It’s completely separate from the campaign for the new hospital.”

The idea of bringing the Boston Pops to Nantucket was born in 1997 thanks to Kathryn Clauss, a longtime supporter of the hospital. There was skepticism about her being able to pull off such a feat, but she gathered the necessary donations to make it happen with the help of Margaretta Andrews.

“I was on the board of trustees and this gal came to us and said ‘Kathy Clauss came to us and said we’ve just had the most incredible experience in your emergency room and I would so like to help and I would like to run your benefit. What is it?’,” said Tibby Allen, who was on the board of trustees during the event’s early years and is a current co-chair of the hospital’s advisory council. “And we were all like, well, we don’t have one. We just don’t have one.”

Allen said she and the board learned hundreds of thousands of dollars would have to be raised to bring the event to the island, and they didn’t think it would be possible.

“The hospital can’t do something like that,” Allen said of her response at the time. “A while later, she came back and handed in 10 checks and the board said, ‘Wow.’ And Kathy was willing to run it.”

Andrews and Clauss served as co-chairs for the inaugural event, and Charles Balas, the hospital’s board chairman at the time, was largely influential in raising money to make the event a reality. Fidelity Investments has served as an event sponsor since it started, and Stephen and Jill Karp of Nantucket Island Resorts were the lead sponsor during the event’s early years.

“There is an old saying that there is nothing like your first time, your first experience,” said Michael Sullivan, the former development director at the hospital who started just four months before the first concert on the island.

“No one had an expectation for the level of what we did. From the first song, it’s John Williams, one of the most respected composers of our time, opening up, and the whole beach just laughed in awe. What a way to start. Who knew it would be a 20-year tradition?”

It took the entire community to execute the event, Sullivan said, and it still does, from the Board of Selectmen’s approval to the coordination with publicsafety officials from the police and fire departments and the harbormaster.

On the day of the event there are close to 200 volunteers on site, helping in various roles. Leading up to the event, more than 150 helpers, broken down into groups according to their given role, participate in putting together each and every piece of the event.

“People want to help,” said Kate Bartleman, senior development officer of the Nantucket Cottage Hospital Foundation, which raises money for the hospital through The NCH Fund, its annual fundraising appeal, as well as events like the Pops. “As we get closer to the event, we’re full with volunteers and we have to turn volunteers away.”

There is a large team effort within the community to put this event on and that is part of what makes it so important.

“The first time was just mind-boggling to see how the community came through, and you end up with those fireworks right above you,” Sullivan said.

In 2012, the event had to be canceled due to inclement weather, the one and only cancellation in its 20-year history.The set-up of the staging and shell that houses the orchestra was put on hold due to a combination of high-wind advisories, thunderstorm warnings and heavy rain.

Although the skies did eventually clear and provide a gorgeous evening for the event, there was not nearly enough time for crews to complete the set-up and therefore the decision had already been made to cancel the show, putting the safety of the 65 crew members above all else.

“Wires were under water, there were severe wind advisories and a crew member was blown offstage,” said Melanie Sabelhaus, who served as chairwoman of the event in 2012. “As a result of safety, and that is what this hospital is all about, we made the decision to cancel. Yes it ended up being a beautiful evening but there was nothing we could do. So this year, we have a plan B.”

The average set-up time for an event of this size is 24-36 hours, which given that year’s weather, was not enough time.

“I was standing ankle-deep in water in the Jetties parking lot and these guys are trying to put together metal scaffolding in lightning and tornado conditions,” Hartmann said. “You’re always trying to find a way to have an appropriate amount of safety net without dampening the event which is always fascinating to try and figure out.”

Since 2012, the hospital has made a commitment to erect a large tent in the offchance the show has to be canceled. In that case, the dinner party for “VIP” ticket-holders can be salvaged, said Courtney O’Neill, executive director of the Nantucket Cottage Hospital Foundation.

John Williams served as the first special guest of the event in 1997, and each year, the Pops have performed with a variety of different artists. They have also brought in singers from onand off-island to sing the National Anthem at the start of the show.

Over the years, the concert has drawn a wide range of luminaries including Joel Gray, Natalie Cole, Carly Simon, Doc Severinsen, Bernadette Peters and Michael Cavanaugh. Emcees have included Natalie Jacobson and Chet Curtis, the late Tim Russert, Chris Matthews, John Kerry and Katie Couric.

In 2014, those on the beach danced to “Arrival from Sweden: The Music of ABBA,” and last year, the crowd moved and grooved to songs from the Australian Bee Gees. This year, multi-platinum recording artist and two-time Grammy winner Kenny Loggins will join the orchestra as the special musical guest.

Loggins’ four-decade-plus career includes hits on Hollywood soundtracks and concerts around the world. During the 1970s, Loggins was half of the prolific recording and touring duo Loggins and Messina before he embarked on a solo career that included platinum albums and smash hits on the soundtracks for iconic 1980s movies “Caddyshack,” “Footloose” and “Top Gun.”

“Each year, we do it with the Pops,” O’Neill said of the way in which special guests are included in the performance. “It’s really important that the Pops have the musical charts for the special guests so they can rehearse together and play their music to back them up. We look at the list of people approved or they’ve worked with. Sometimes someone becomes available who makes themselves known to us.

Other years, we set out with a goal of not wanting to spend a lot of money with it. We want to be judicious with the fundraising dollars, keeping it entertaining but affordable.”

“The other thing that we consider, too, when we think about who we’re going to ask or approach is, is it something that is going to appeal to the entire audience? The young, the old and in between? That’s really important,” Bartleman said.

This year’s 20th anniversary concert is being spearheaded by event chairs Craig and Frances Lindner, seasonal residents of the island.

“The Boston Pops on Nantucket is always a special night for the island community that brings everyone together for an important cause – our hospital,” Craig Lindner said. “Frances and I are honored to serve as chairs of the 20th anniversary edition of this great Nantucket summer tradition.”

This year’s program booklet will recognize each of the last 20 years, who chaired the event, who the special guests were and what the theme was that year.

The concert will again be live-streamed on three Jumbotrons on the beach, one more than the past two years, and new this year, at Sherburne Commons, Our Island Home and the Saltmarsh Senior Center, the island’s elder-living facilities.

“Every year, we have given tickets to those places for people who want to be at the Pops,” said Hartmann. “But one of the challenges is that there are so many moving parts, vehicles, streams of people, and especially in the dark. It’s a security and safety concern, so we’re constantly trying to evolve and improve it every year and make it fun and joyful for everybody.”

The money raised from the Pops event has contributed to key improvements at the hospital in the past 19 years, including a renovated and expanded emergency department, radiology suite, equipment to support outpatient surgery, employee housing and off-island advanced training and certification programs for the medical staff, just to name a few.

“Ultimately, you have to remember what it’s all about, too,” Sullivan said. “Not only has it become the social event of the summer, but look at what it’s done for the island’s hospital. And at the end of the day, that’s, for me, the best thing, that people from the year-round community to our seasonal visitors get the quality healthcare they deserve.” ///

Lindsay Pykosz is a Nantucket native and staff writer for The Inquirer and Mirror, the island's newspaper since 1821.

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