• Fireworks show takes cash, planning

    Tonight's Expo fireworks may be the largest such display in Oregon
  • As families around the valley are readying slabs of barbecue and coolers full of ice for Independence Day feasts, a small band of die-hard party-throwers are preparing what they promise will be the biggest Fourth of July bash ever witnessed in Southern Oregon.
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  • As families around the valley are readying slabs of barbecue and coolers full of ice for Independence Day feasts, a small band of die-hard party-throwers are preparing what they promise will be the biggest Fourth of July bash ever witnessed in Southern Oregon.
    And we're not talking mere picnic supplies and sunscreen here: Their list of supplies includes truckloads of explosives, an arsenal of catered food and enough volunteer labor and red and blue decorations to ready the 5,900-seat Lithia Motors amphitheater at the Jackson County Expo for a $40,000 Fourth of July celebration.
    Brad Hicks, Medford/Jackson County Chamber president, and Cari Powell, the chamber's communications and programs vice president, braved the already warm temperatures at 5 a.m. Wednesday as the final stages of preparation began for the annual "Red, White and Boom" fireworks event. They'll be back at it today.
    While most households begin thinking about Independence Day plans in mid-June, planning for the regional celebration begins in early January.
    "We start planning and meeting every two weeks in January to secure sponsors," Powell said.
    "The fireworks alone are 20 to 25 grand out of a $50,000 event so we have to hit up sponsors and see if they were happy last year and if they want to do it again and whether or not they can afford it again. "
    Second in importance only to financing the event, the entertainment lineup is planned months in advance. It will range from local bands — this year's event will feature finalists from "Last Band Standing" — to a synchronized show, produced by KBOY, played during the fireworks show.
    As seasons transition from winter to spring to summer, to-do lists grow longer and more elaborate. Decorations and meals for sponsors are planned, along with such things as event security, traffic control, signs and concessions.
    A major player in the annual Fourth festivities, Western Fireworks gives chamber coordinators the biggest "bang" for their hard-raised dollars, Hicks said.
    "A big reason we can pull this whole thing off is because we have the right fireworks folks," Hicks said.
    "You can blow up a lot of money if you don't work with a company like Western Fireworks. They know how to combine the big ones, the little ones, the wow ones and how to put on a show that is sustaining and doesn't end too soon."
    Head pyrotechnician for Western Fireworks, Lee Finlayson said the region can rest assured that few shows will be found anywhere nearby or even in the Pacific Northwest to rival the fairgrounds display planned for tonight.
    "The Medford show just kind of keeps growing and it's gotten to be probably one of the largest in the state," he said.
    While event planners focus on money, food and crowd control, Finlayson's part involves regulatory paperwork with agencies running the gamut from the state fire marshal and Homeland Security to the Department of Justice and myriad county and city departments.
    Permits are required to produce the show, sponsored this year by Red Robin and the city of Central Point, with state laws otherwise prohibiting fireworks that leave the ground.
    "It is quite the process for sure and it takes a lot of work from a lot of people," said Finlayson, who's a home builder when he's not setting off pyrotechnics.
    "My crew has been working for three days straight on this show and we'll probably put 1,200-1,400 shells in the air for this year's show. We definitely won't let the crowd down."
    While the final days will involve everything from facilities decoration to a massive day-after cleanup effort, Hicks said one element involved in pulling off the annual show is at least a small amount of faith that it will all turn out fine.
    The "Red White and Boom" fireworks show began 10 years ago in a south Medford field with a much smaller budget, before moving to the fairgrounds three years ago.
    "In the old days it was pretty bare bones so the priority was to make sure we had enough fireworks," Powell noted.
    "We'd spend the whole $25,000 we raised on fireworks and scrounge donations for everything else, like Gatorade and printing supplies."
    All told, the event has successfully grown with each passing summer.
    Hicks said every ounce of planning, imagination and elbow grease are worth the reaction offered by the crowd.
    "It's easy to get so focused on making sure sponsors are taken care of, that you bought enough water and that police and fire people are ready to do their thing," Hicks said.
    "But when you look out and there are 5,000 people in the amphitheater and another 6,000 or 7,000 outside watching the thing, kids running around with their faces painted and everyone having a great time, the part that feels the best is to see what was just a great idea 10 years ago has literally become the best Fourth of July show that our region has ever seen."
    Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.
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