LaFollette company's fireworks shows set standard across U.S.

LaFollette company's fireworks shows set standard across U.S.

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Pyro Shows does Knoxville's annual Boomsday display. Pyro Shows does Knoxville's annual Boomsday display.
The waterfall is one of Boomsday's best known effects. The waterfall is one of Boomsday's best known effects.
An editing system allows employees to sync music and fireworks for shows. An editing system allows employees to sync music and fireworks for shows.

By KRISTIN FARLEY
6 News Anchor/Reporter

LAFOLLETTE (WATE) - The Boomsday displays in Knoxville are not your average fireworks show. The shells are unique, the special effects are remarkable and they're all designed by an East Tennessee company.

Pyro Shows in LaFollette was founded more than 40 years ago, and a lot has changed since then according to Vice President of Operations Michael Walden.

"In 1969, Lansden Hill, the owner of the company, started this company while he was in high school," Walden said.

At first, the company just looked to do shows at county fairs. While Pyro Shows has never manufactured fireworks in LaFollette, it provides the minds and design team behind the whole production.

The company exploded from a regional fireworks company to a global one after what might be called a key moment in the 1980s.

"At the point when he (Hill) decided to do music, I think that happened at a show in Nashville, he liked the challenge of matching the fireworks up with the music," Walden explained.

Today, Pyro Shows does almost all the work in house and it's all thanks to computers. "Like every other job, you wonder how you ever did it before because it makes everything faster and easier," Walden said.

An editing system helps them create one soundtrack for audiences and a separate one for the technicians to hear, so each shell goes off on cue.

Like any other artistic production, there's no blueprint. It's truly a creative process. "You get to the point where you are driving down the road and you hear a song on the radio and you think, man that firework will look cool (with this)," Walden said.

Most shows take four-six weeks to produce. That's largely due to the number of shows Pyro is working on at the same time.

While Made in Tennessee was there, they were packing for some of the 220 shows they're putting on during Fourth of July week, alone.

"One of the worst things that can happen to you is that you have shell that is supposed to be red, white and blue and you shoot it and it's purple and yellow," Walden said. "It is a very embarrassing thing to happen, but we can't control that."

So how do they keep everything on track? You might say very carefully. They have cue sheets that tell what shells should go off and exactly when. People pack the shells in the right order and in properly labeled boxes for each sequence.

It's all done in an explosive safe packing center that has no lights or electricity running to it.

At the show, site technicians unpack each box and set everything up in sequence.

To the average crowd the shows look flawless, but Walden and others at Pyro Shows are perfectionists who see things a bit differently.

"I don't know that we ever see a perfect show," he said. "The people who do shows every week, every day of their life, will probably notice something."

Pyro Shows also has a lot of federal contracts, including one of the biggest in Washington D.C. for the Fourth of July.

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