PROVO — It’s not easy these days, navigating a pandemic, racial unrest and partisan politics as the country sorts out how to celebrate its 244th birthday.
But you’ve gotta give the people who run America’s Freedom Festival at Provo credit for their creativity.
They’ve come up with an event that is exclusive yet inclusive, close yet distant, integrative yet segregative, violent and explosive yet as nonthreatening and benign as the BYU football schedule in November.
From 10 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. this Saturday night, aka the 4th of July, the Freedom Festival will light up the skies of Utah County with the mother of all fireworks shows. From three launchpads, one in southwest Provo at Footprinter Park, one in Orem just off Center Street at Community Park, and a third in the parking lot south of BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium, fireworks will be launched simultaneously into the nighttime sky.
Many of the shells will be twice as big as normal — 10- and 12-inchers instead of 5- and 6-inchers — and they will be shot twice as high — up to 1,400 feet instead of the usual 600-800 feet.
The organizers are confident the show will be viewable by everyone.
There won’t be a bad seat in Utah Valley.
And anyone with access to a radio is free to tune in to KSL (1160 AM, 102.7 FM) and hear patriotic music synchronized with the fireworks.
The big show is the brainchild of members of the Freedom Festival’s board of trustees, who were sparked by Executive Director Jim Evans’s muse about “doing something big this year with the fireworks.”
Members of the board were holding an emergency meeting last month at the festival’s headquarters in east Provo.
“It was supposed to be a Zoom meeting,” Evans recounts. “But we had important decisions to make. I came to the office to start the Zoom call and looked up and everyone was there.”
For weeks, the board had resisted announcing the Freedom Festival’s extensive calendar would be canceled because of the pandemic. Even as other major events in the state, including the Days of ’47 festivities in Salt Lake City, were called off, they held on. In particular, nobody wanted to see what’s billed as “America’s largest” July 4th celebration – the Stadium of Fire – canceled for the first time in 40 years.
But now it was time to face the music, and if possible, salvage something out of the chaos.
That’s when Evans, who took over as executive director last July when longtime director Paul Warner retired, brought up his fireworks idea.
The board was immediately on board, agreeing to dip into its rainy day fund and double this year’s fireworks budget — from $75,000 to $150,000.
Evans immediately contacted Steve Shriber at Firestorm Pyro, the company that provides the Freedom Festival with its fireworks. Not only did Shriber assure him they could get all they required, but, better yet, for years he’d been saving a number of high octane fireworks for a special occasion.
Evans told him: “This year’s the year.”
Shriber personally went to Portland last week to pick up the shipping container from China and make certain it made it to Utah.
“We’ll eat some money this year, but it’s OK,” said Evans. “We owe it to the thousands of volunteers, our sponsors and all who support us to do something to honor and pay tribute to this great country we live in and love. We are fueled by patriotism, not making money.”
People won’t be able to sit in LaVell Edwards Stadium and hear Keith Urban or Tim McGraw this year, but they will be able to safely social distance.
The best place to watch?
“Anywhere and everywhere, really,” said Evans. “It’s actually better to be a ways from the (launch) sites, because it’s going to be a big triangle, basically, and if you situate yourself equidistant you’ll be able to see fireworks in different directions.
“Just don’t sit under a tree.”
Evans is hopeful the fireworks show will be immune from protests.
“I will never say never, but you hope no one will protest,” he said. “This is for everybody, for all people. There’s not a single person that’s not invited to watch the fireworks from wherever they want to watch. Fireworks is what we can do this year to bring people together.”
While also keeping them apart.