This Memorial Day weekend my family and I took a trip to Hartwood Acres in Allegany County, Pennsylvania to attend the 3rd Annual Pyrofest event there produced by Pyrotecnico. Since this was our second time attending a Pyrofest event, we already knew it would be fantastic. Their events always boast live bands starting at 3:00 PM on the main stage, with great music continuing all day long up until dark when the fireworks displays begin. In between bands, something else very unusual happens at the Pyrofest that rarely occurs in the United States (although it is very common in Europe)–daytime fireworks displays are shot. That, in itself is a pleasant surprise and makes attending the event all the more worthwhile.
One fortuitous difference between attending last year’s event and this year’s event was having the opportunity to meet with both Rocco from Pyrotecnico (http://www.pyrotecnico.com) and Ricardo Caballer (http://www.ricardocaballer.com) S.A. to help us with this article. Meeting both of these master pyrotechnicians was awesome enough, to say the least, but getting to tour the entire setup area afterwards was an unexpected bonus. You have to understand, even though things were very hectic on shoot day–with everyone busy tightening up a myriad of loose ends–these two gentlemen were gracious enough to sit down and spend almost two hours talking to us. Doesn’t that tell you almost everything you need to know about them? Both are very down-to-earth, wonderful guys to talk to, and we were thoroughly overjoyed to get their thoughts and perspectives on soundtracks, choreographic creativity and product quality.
To begin with, both Rocco and Ricardo admitted to spending an inordinate number of hours putting together the “perfect” soundtracks for their respective displays–oftentimes doubling the time they took to actually script the fireworks portion of their displays. It’s definitely a creative process: what they might consider a great idea one day and spend hours working on, they might decide the next morning is not that great. I think it is something creative people go through all of the time (you know who you are).
As for the fireworks choreography itself, Rocco says he essentially tries to “Keep it simple” and feels that sometimes trying to be “too creative” or forcing yourself to think perpetually “outside the box” can lead to confusion and convolute your main objectives. Ricardo on the other hand is constantly trying to think on a “grand scale” for each and every display he choreographs–always looking for the perfect product to match the mood of a particular piece of music. His take on things are simple, too: He is always trying to outdo himself, meaning he constantly pushes himself to do his very best work without worrying about what any other company might be doing. Of course, since the main focus of Ricardo Caballer leans toward the manufacturing side of the fireworks industry, one can easily see why he pays so much attention to product details.
Ricardo also spoke to us about “building the perfect comet” for just one of his displays, and the immense amount of time it took to perfect just that one single effect. To get things right, he would often have make a sample, shoot it, make adjustments to the next one, shoot it, and repeat this process over and over again sometimes taking several days to test his new comet. This attention to detail, of course, is what separates Ricardo from most of the other top companies. Yes, some might choreograph at the same level, and some might even build at the same level, but very few companies compare to Ricardo and can do both at the same time. It takes a lot of hard work and a great deal of time at the factory to accomplish this standard. Very few people are willing to devote that amount of time to seek that level of perfection–especially when you have a family, and Ricardo is definitely a family man.
As daylight receded and nighttime quickly approached, you could sense the heightened anticipation growing amidst the crowd. Many were here last year and could hardly wait to see what these masterful pyrotechnic choreographers had assembled for their enjoyment. As the daytime smoke quickly faded from view, and a barrage of salutes completely awoke whoever had dozed off in the twilight, the National Anthem display acted more like a teaser or an opening act. As the last band cleared the stage, everyone’s attention now turned toward the display site as everyone settled in for what promised to be a spectacular 90 minutes of fireworks.
The first display was a consumer demo-based type of display fired by Phantom Fireworks. Phantom is one of the largest suppliers of consumer fireworks in the United States. While the display itself did not showcase precise choreography, it did demonstrate what could be accomplished using consumer fireworks alone, and it was nice to see their continued involvement in the event. Any time you can positively bring attention to consumer fireworks products, especially with that hobby under constant attack from U.S. governmental regulatory agencies, it is a good thing. Regardless, it was an enjoyable display and a pleasant way to begin the evening.
The next display, however, showcased the winner of Pyrotecnico’s “Fireworks Fantasy” choreography competition. This competition was open to anyone who owned a copy of Finale Fireworks choreography software. In this competition, each contestant was given a makeshift budget to work with, an inventory list, and a generic layout of frontage complete with shell positions. The task was to choreograph an 8-10 minute software display, with a winning display to be chosen by Pyrotecnico’s management. The selected “winner” then had his/her display produced and fired by Pyrotecnico as part of Pyrofest. This year the winning choreographer was Barry Mendelson, who choreographed a wonderful display to a soundtrack consisting of popular movie scores. What I liked most about it was how well it set the stage for the upcoming two main displays.
Ricardo Caballer Ricasa’s display followed next, and it was nothing short of spectacular. The soundtrack wasn’t your typical “theme based” style either, but covered many different genres of music from rock to hip-hop to instrumental. The choreography was world-class, too, and exemplified itself with perfect timing and exquisite product selections that accompanied each different section of the soundtrack.
When Tina Turner’s song, “Simply the Best” began with accompanying varicolored fireworks, I truly thought it was one of the most beautifully choreographed pieces I had ever seen. And the finale, with its beautiful brocades replete with chest pounding ground and aerial salutes, almost overloaded the senses of the crowd.
The final display of the evening was entitled “Whole Lotta Love” and was choreographed by Pyrotecnico. Last year, Pyrotecnico seemed to have a tough time following Ricardo’s act, but this year, they came out shooting! While I still felt Ricardo had performed the best display of the night, Pyrotecnico managed to effectively choreograph a much more complicated display. From the raised set pieces, to the comet and mine sequences, to its thundering shells–they put together a world-class display of their own. Even their soundtrack was interestingly excellent. Based on popular love songs from the 60s through the present, their choice of music was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone.
Overall, the event was another huge success for Pyrotecnico, and hopefully, fireworks festivals of this caliber will become more and more popular throughout the U.S. My advice to you: if you ever have a chance to attend this wonderful Pyrofest any time the future, take it. This is fireworks at a whole new level.