ADDISON, Texas — Fireworks technician Chad Stanley doesn't even need to press the "fire" button on the computer controlling Kaboom Town — one of the nation's biggest Fourth of July weekend fireworks shows. Months of planning mean Stanley and other pyrotechnic specialists merely sit back and watch the precisely programmed show along with the other half-million or so people who set up in parks, yards and parking lots in Addison, Texas, to take in the nearly 30-year-old extravaganza, scheduled for Thursday night.
Here's a look at some of what goes in to putting together annual spectacle outside Dallas and others like it nationwide.
Kaboom Town uses thousands of individually handmade fireworks. Designs for a fireworks show are hand drawn, then shells are filled with the necessary material to create the desired effect. Fireworks are placed in a mortar and connected by wires to the computer that runs the show. The wires detonate the fireworks at the appropriate time, sending them as high as 800 feet into the air.
Stanley estimates almost half of the fireworks are reserved for the 30- to 45-second ending, a flurry of blasts, flashes and stars.
SIT BACK AND LISTEN
Stanley does a handful of checks on the big day, playing the program on the computer to make sure the music syncs with the fireworks. He can stop the show manually if anything goes wrong, but his main responsibility during the show is to listen. He can tell by the sound if a firework didn't go off correctly.
"I have three buttons to push and then I turn a key," Stanley said. If for some reason, the fireworks don't go off, he can use the computer to ignite them. But, he said, "The computer system is going to do its job. It always does."
SEARCHING FOR DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH
For months in advance, Stanley and Addison director of special events Barbara Kovacevich listen to the radio for new songs to add to a set list that also includes patriotic marches and classics. They go through songs dozens of times and pick out lyrics to match the fireworks they have.
Stanley would divulge only one new song ahead of this year's show: "Diamonds," by Rihanna.
The music is streamed as data into the computer that syncs up the fireworks so the right images go off at the right times — like when Rihanna sings to "shine bright like a diamond."
Kovacevich fondly remembers the show in 2006 adding the University of Texas' fight song to celebrate the school's Rose Bowl win, with red roses and orange lights blasting overhead.
A SMALL TOWN'S BIG DAY
Addison is a suburb of about 15,000 people, and Kaboom Town is by far its biggest event of the year. About 20,000 free tickets are given out for the city's July 3 party at Addison Circle Park, where guests set up picnic blankets and chairs to watch bands and an air show before the main event. That leaves hundreds of thousands of people to spread out over grocery store parking lots, sidewalks and restaurants.
It's a massive undertaking that the town has fine-tuned over three decades.
"We start planning the next year on July 4," Kovacevich said.
BIRTHDAYS, FESTIVALS AND THE ODD FUNERAL
Stanley and his brother grew up making their own fireworks and setting them off in a yard in the dusty plains of West Texas. Now, they are professional pyrotechnics who put on fireworks displays throughout the year.
Stanley does shows for birthdays and other celebrations — and also funerals. Occasionally, someone will ask to have their ashes cremated and shot up into the sky, he said.
"It's odd to me, but it's business," he said.