Labor Day weekend in Knoxville can be an unpredictable time.
Sometimes the Vols are playing football at home in Neyland Stadium. But this year's season opener is Friday in Atlanta's Georgia Dome against the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Some early Septembers are more like mid-July with temperatures that make you long for a good December chill. Or — as with 2011's Labor Day — rain dampens the fun of summer's last gasp.
But for a quarter of a century one constant exists for Labor Day in East Tennessee. Knoxville hosts a grand, loud fireworks show called Boomsday.
The 25th Boomsday is Sunday, Sept. 2, along the Volunteer Landing in downtown Knoxville. The event's highlight is a 20-minute fireworks show choreographed to music. The 9:30 p.m. show that uses between four-and-a-half and five tons of fireworks is put on annually by LaFollette-based Pyro Shows. More than 20,000 shells will fire off to the soundtrack produced by Star 102.1 FM.
Pre-fireworks events start at 1 p.m. with food and a family fun zone with games. Live music starts at 5 p.m. Musicians scheduled are the East Tennessee alternative rock band Ergo We Play, country music artist and Knoxville native Homer Hart and country music singer Jaida Dreyer.
Neyland Drive is a no-vehicle, pedestrian-friendly space for Boomsday. And it's pretty much always a crowd. An estimated 400,000 people can turn up to watch the fireworks. The event is presented by Visit Knoxville, formerly the Knoxville Sports and Tourism Corp.
Before the fireworks begin other lights will shine again. Lights on the refurbished JFG Coffee sign, a South Knoxville landmark, will be turned on. The sign was removed and shipped to a Charlotte, N.C., repair firm in October 2010 by parent company Reily Foods. The sign had stood at the southern end of the Gay Street Bridge for more than 50 years and needed both renovation and a new home. It now sits on land donated by the Shriners of Kerbela Temple, on a hill overlooking its former site.
Ongoing construction to rebuild the Henley Bridge — Boomsday's launchpad until 2011 — means that for the second consecutive year fireworks lift from a railroad bridge slightly west of the Henley Bridge and spanning the Tennessee River. The fireworks will be set up on some seven flatbed railroad cars, part of a railroad train that could total 13 to 14 cars, Pyro Shows vice President of Operations Mike Walden said last week. Pyro employees were lining up fireworks and finishing the choreography for the show last week.
Using the railroad bridge means Pyro employees work in a narrower, shorter space than the multilane, 800-foot Henley Bridge. And because the railroad bridge is slightly lower than the Henley span fireworks don't project quite as high in the air. Walden said that last year's show was a success. A small fire in a "rack," a group of mortars where fireworks are shot from, was minor, he said.
"To have never done a show from a train, it actually went really, really well. The biggest issue last year was the weather. The weather was just horrible. It rained a full day. Let's talk to the weatherman about that for this year."
This year's show, Walden predicts, "is going to be awesome" with segments paying tribute to topics from the Olympics to Boomsday's 25th year. There's a "completely different twist" to fireworks set to the music from the movie "Jaws." "It will look a lot different from in the past," he says.
Boomsday standards — including fireworks choreographed to favorites such as "Rocky Top," "Tennessee Waltz" and "Smoke on the Water" — remain. There's a segment marking University of Tennessee sports, another staple. "It's very Tennessee. We are not going to do one without 'Rocky Top' or without 'Tennessee Waltz,' " Walden says.
Walden is anticipating next year's return to the Henley Bridge. "I have already bought some new items for when we get back on Henley nobody ever seen before. … We are already making plans for 2013."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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