But thousands enjoy Independence Day music, parade, games.
by David Leone
WAKE FOREST — It didn’t rain on the July 4 children’s parade, but the downpour the day before snuffed out much of the fireworks show.
“This is the worst fireworks I’ve ever been to!” exclaimed one unhappy attendee after the show fizzled only 9 minutes in.
Others took to the Internet to complain. On the town of Wake Forest’s Facebook site, people commented, “Very lame,” “Fail,” and “I’ve bought better mortars at South of the Border.”
One poster suggested people be refunded their $5 entry fee. Another said parking was bad and it should be returned to Heritage High’s football field next year.
At first it appeared that the 40th annual Wake Forest Fourth of July festivities (held July 3) would be canceled due to rain. It rained three times that day, the heaviest deluge occurring right as the gates to Wake Forest High School’s Trentini Stadium were to open at 5:30 p.m.
But the show went on — people huddled under umbrellas watching the Friendship Chapel Church praise singers and then the popular beach music group, Band of Oz.
Thunderstorms at the site of the airfield prevented a plane takeoff, forcing Don Carrington’s skydivers to cancel their stadium jump.
Then the sun came out again and people began to come in, at first in a trickle, but gradually, as the evening wore on, they filled the seats. Many arrived in the hour before the 9:30 p.m. fireworks.
The children’s parade July 4 was its largest ever, organizers said. Sunny weather brought hundreds of kids to Holding Park for sack races, tug-of-war and a pie eating contest, among other activities.
But the July 3 fireworks flub is what was being talked about around town Monday.
The Independence Day activities are not town-run, though the town board has traditionally pitched-in funding. More funding was obtained for this year’s 40th celebration.
Rhonda Alderman, chairperson of the Fourth of July Committee, issued a statement apologizing for the abbreviated fireworks, stating the committee staff were not notified by S&W Productions of Wake Forest that the show wouldn’t go on as planned.
“We made our decision to continue with the planned celebration based on the statement given to us from S&W Productions earlier in the week that they could shoot in the rain (and not a thunderstorm) and knowing that the Band of Oz was booked the rest of the week,” she wrote.
Alderman said she had spoken to the fireworks technical staff, led by John O’Neal, several times that afternoon, even walking over to check on them once and sending another committee member over once as well.
“Nothing was indicated at any time,” that the show might not be performed in full, she said by phone Tuesday. “They’re saying it was the rain. It makes me believe they didn’t take proper precautions.”
“We are sick. We stood on that track and just looked at each other. We were in shock,” Alderman added about the fizzle.
As of press deadline, Alderman had not met with S&W staff about the issue. Though the production company is normally paid right after the show, the full $15,000 had yet to be paid this week. Alderman declined to say how much had been paid.
“We’re still talking with them,” she said of the contract. “We are very disappointed. We understand people are disappointed. No one is more disappointed than the Fourth of July Committee.”
Paul Baldree, who co-owns S&W Productions with his wife, Cheri, said they also were very disappointed in the fireworks.
“We put a lot of work and effort into it and so did the shooter,” he said Tuesday, noting 124 shells didn’t fire.
The company is prepared to shoot in rain and has done so in the past, he said, noting the situation this time was different.
The amount of rain flooded the tennis courts behind the stadium where the fireworks were set up, he said, resulting in cardboard boxed containing fireworks to “float across the tennis courts.”
Each multi-shot grouping of fireworks is collected in a box that looks like a cake, which is how they’re referred to. The cakes got wet at the base, and, until they are fired electronically, there is no way to tell if they will go off, he said.
“You don’t know until you push the button,” he said.
During a “normal” rain, the fireworks can be covered up and they did cover them, Baldree said. But the bases remained wet and the rocket tubes that didn’t fire, also made of cardboard, were still damp in their trailer Tuesday.
Cheri Baldree was responsible for the show held in Franklinton. With intermittent rain before OneFranklinton’s event also July 3, she was able to cover up and didn’t put the fireworks out until most of the wet weather had passed. Franklinton traditionally holds a smaller fireworks show.
The company held 15 other fireworks shows across the state between June 29 and July 7.
In Wake Forest, they begin setting up the morning of the show, Paul Baldree said.
S&W has been doing the fireworks in Wake Forest for about 40 years. There have been a few other mishaps over the years, from rockets blowing off together or firing in the wrong direction, but never a show as truncated as this one.
The Baldrees took over from the previous owners four years ago, though they’ve been involved with S&W for a dozen years, he said.
In the future, they’ll build a lattice out of wood and plastic to get the fireworks off the ground, he said.
“We enjoy doing it. My shooter’s all tore up,” Baldree said about O’Neal. “We love the roar of the crowd we like making people happy.”
He said they’re looking forward to coming to an arrangement with the committee as to how to settle the contract.
“We want to work it out where its good for everyone and move on.”
In her statement, Alderman also tried to address people’s other criticisms of the site and parking.
The show moved to Heritage for the three years during construction and field rehabilitation at Wake Forest High.
Trentini Stadium offers more seating, she said. It has better parking as well, and the lower and smaller fireworks display prevents too many people from parking and watching without paying.
The show has to pay for itself. The $27,000 total cost includes about $2,400 to rent the school. Wake Forest High is a little less expensive to rent than Heritage, she added.
In addition to the town’s contribution ($10,000 this year) and gate sales, the festivities attract about $15,000 in sponsorships. The all-volunteer committee puts in hundreds of hours preparing as well, she said, adding she’d welcome any new volunteers with new ideas.
To contact her, e-mail [email protected]