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November 25, 2014

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Nostalgia ushers in holiday for downtown crowd

American Pie’ classic is on display at Fremont Street Experience

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Melissa Arseniuk

Musicians keep the crowd entertained before Don McLean’s “American Pie” is premiered on the Fremont Street Experience’s Viva Vision.

Though the chorus waves "Bye bye miss American pie," proud Americans said hello to the ballad once again Thursday as it had its Viva Vision premiere at the Fremont Street Experience.

Fremont Street Experience

Watch scenes from the unveiling of the Viva Vision version of the Don McLean classic, "American Pie" at the Fremont Street Experience.

The Don McLean classic opened on the 1,500-foot screen as part of Independence Day weekend festivities. The patriotic sound and light show will be displayed twice nightly as part of the celebrations, which continue through Saturday.

The holiday weekend officially got underway with the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at 9 p.m. Then, a temporary hush fell over the crowd as the lights dimmed and the audience turned its attention to the screen hanging high above the street.

The quiet was short-lived, though, after the weekend’s main attraction -- the Viva Vision version of Don McLean’s classic, "American Pie" -- was unveiled. While some danced and others sang along, many just stood and stared in silence as the sound and light show began 90 feet above the pavement.

But when the chorus hit, many of the onlookers couldn’t help but chime in.

“So bye bye, miss American pie. Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.

A Fremont Street Fourth

Musicians keep the crowd entertained before Don McLean's Launch slideshow »

And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye, singin' 'this’ll be the day that I die, this’ll be the day that I die.'"

McLean’s epic song has spanned generations. While it has been decades since it enjoyed its four weeks in Billboard’s top spot, legions of music fans have been united by its infectious melodies and often confusing, metaphorical lyrics.

The song is an undisputed American classic -- but while thousands of Americans sing along as they celebrate their country this holiday weekend, can they explain what, exactly, it is they’re singing?

Bobbi Tsatsa and Teri Frisch thought they understood the song word-for-word, initially.

“The day the music died! Buddy Holly!” Frisch recalled, referencing the Feb. 3, 1959, plane crash that claimed the lives of Holly, along with Ritchie Valens (“La Bamba") and J. P. Richardson (“The Big Bopper”).

“It was a real travesty in our lives,” she said of the crash.

Other lyrics proved to be more puzzling. While Frisch was sure the king mentioned in the line, “When the jester played for the king and queen in a coat he borrowed from James Dean,” was Elvis Presley, neither of the women were certain who the queen was.

“I’m not sure about that,” Frisch said.

“Pricilla?” Tsatsa offered, suggesting it might have been the king's former wife, Priscilla Presley.

Guesses aside, neither woman knew who the jester was, or how he got his hands on James Dean’s coat.

McLean's lyrics have puzzled fans and critics alike since "American Pie" hit the airwaves in 1971. Theories have included references to artists like The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and the Rolling Stones, and major events in history, such as violent peace protests and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. McLean himself has admitted the lyrics are confusing.

Nine-year-old twin sisters Megan and AnnDee Gladu might be too young to pick up the song’s historic pop culture references, but that didn’t stop the pair from enjoying Thursday’s premiere.

“I like it,” said AnnDee, of Idaho Falls, Idaho. “It’s really bright and it has a lot of colors.”

Tsatsa sang and danced her way through McLean’s Viva Vision debut. The Las Vegas resident appreciated the pop culture imagery incorporated into the show, saying it brought back memories and reminded her of what it means to be an American.

“The death of President Kennedy,” she said, dramatically grasping her heart. “It was a hard time for America, but we survived. We survived and we grew stronger.”

Like most of the people along Fremont Street Thursday night, Tsatsa figured instead of interpreting McLean’s lyrics word for word, what mattered most was how the song instilled a patriotic sense of pride.

“I’m proud to be an American,” she said. “I’m glad to come from this country.”

Past Event

American Pie 4th of July
  • Saturday, July 5, 2008, 4 p.m. to midnight
  • Fremont Street Experience, 425 Fremont St, Las Vegas
  • All ages / Free

More on this event.

Ray and Debra Bolin, of Botkins, Ohio, were feeling particularly proud to be Americans. Both were dressed in red, white and blue from head to toe. “It’s the way I was raised,” Ray Bolin said.

Meanwhile, Frisch said she appreciates the freedoms Americans enjoy that others do not.

“We have the right to wake up every morning and pray as we want to, and then go to work,” she said. “A lot of people don’t have that right.”

Americans of all ages will have the chance to reflect upon what their citizenship means to them -- and what McLean’s lyrics mean, too, if they want -- as the Independence Day festivities continue along Fremont Street this weekend.

Beyond the "American Pie" presentation, "American Free" and "A Tribute to Queen" will also be showcased twice nightly. Between showings, the screen's 12.5 million lights will light up to show fireworks and patriotic images set to classic American favorites.

For more information, visit vegasexperience.com.

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