Photos by Mary Zastrow
I’ve been attending “Pyromania” (formerly known as the “Pyro U St. Louis Shoot”) every year since 2009. This gathering—which continues to grow bigger every year—is now one of the largest pyrotechnic events in the United States. MoPyro (Missouri Pyrotechnics Association: www.mopyro.us) hosts this annual event, but the underlying foundation originated within the Pyro Universe community (www.pyrouniverse.com). Starting back in 2006, Pyromania began as most other U.S. pyrotechnic events have begun, with a small group of fireworks enthusiasts getting together to showcase their talents. Word quickly spread about the professional quality of this shoot, and how everyone who attended the event saw great displays and had a wonderful time. Nine short years later, the event now has a huge following and has moved to a larger staging area—Brookdale Farms. The event coordinators—who genuinely put their heart and soul into this event and are a big reason for the event’s success —are Ed Vasel, Scott Fleer, Brian Thiemann and Kevin Kemper.
While Saturday night is when the main displays are all fired, Pyromania is more than just a one day event for the fireworks enthusiasts who attend. A “Meet and greet” social venue (which may be my favorite part of Pyromania) is held for the 150+ hobbyists and professionals who begin filing in Thursday evening. This is a wonderful time to meet other pyro “fanatics” from all over the country, and this social get-together typically lasts until the wee hours of the morning. This year’s social hour brought sad news, however, as we learned that one of the Pro Am competitors, Ty Hanke and his wife, had lost their unborn child that morning and would not be able to compete. Ty is one of the most respected members of our pyrotechnic community and it deeply saddened everyone to hear the news. In our community, though, bad news can often spawn great things. Almost immediately, a group of Ty’s fellow members stepped up to the plate to ensure Ty’s show would be shot for him while he mourned his loss along with his family. What began as a sad moment for all of us quickly turned into something positive as others quickly joined in to volunteer to help with the setup. Since all of the equipment required was still with Ty, equipment loans were quickly secured from other shooters. In a relatively short period of time, every aspect of Ty’s show was covered, proving once again just how special this event is and how exceptional the people are who attend.
Fridays are unusually special days at the Pyromania shoot. It is a day for good food, spectacular fireworks at night, and a slightly different kind of fireworks competition specifically designed for hobbyist attendees (It is important to note that Friday night’s competition is not open to the public). This year, Friday night began with the demo portion of the event. Nine different vendors attended to show off their hottest products to the entire group.
The following vendors provided demos this year:
Bada Boom Fireworks
Black Cat Fireworks
Black Market Fireworks
Most Wanted Fireworks
Peak Performance Fireworks
Red Rhino Fireworks
Spirit of ‘76
Immediately following the demos, the “Blind Pyro” competition took place. The “Blind Pyro” competition is an interesting event, really. At 3:00 PM Friday afternoon, teams are given a pre-determined amount of product to produce a display. None of the teams know what product they have until that time, and then they only have four hours to choreograph and setup an entire pyromusical. Given the short amount of time in which they have to produce their display, it is amazing the quality of shows the Blind Pyro competition produces. This year’s first place winner: “Missouri Mortar Maniacs”.
Saturday night—arguably the most exciting night and the culmination of Pyromania—typically hosts ten individual displays as well as the “Pro Am” competition. Pro Am began back in 2012 and showcases only 1.4G products (no 1.3G professional products are allowed). Each Pro Am display generally lasts between six and ten minutes and is limited by shot counts.
This is designed to make the competition more even across the board, and guarantees no one can “buy” a championship. Additionally, these limitations bring a uniqueness to this event other competitions don’t have. Since choreographers have strict limitations on the number of 500 gram cakes, 200 gram cakes, singles shots, etc., they can use, they must shrewdly decide how to best maximize the effects per category because they cannot rely on sheer numbers. Having competed in Pro Am myself two years ago, I can assure you that Pro Am definitely tests the mettle of an artist’s creativity as well as his team’s setup efficiency. Prep work for each display is done on Thursday, but the entire display must be set up on the field the day of the competition itself—all while sharing the field with at least eight to ten other competitors!
This year’s Pan Am competitors were Peter Rogoz, Ty Hanke, and Chris Walls. Each showed a great deal of creative individuality in producing their outstanding displays. Peter’s display, entitled simply “Bob,” took first prize, but as you might expect, the real winners were the spectators. Outstanding displays are always a real treat and these were absolutely phenomenal—especially since they were created using only 1.4G consumer grade fireworks.
In addition to the winner of the Pro Am competition, the judges also choose a “Best of Show” award to be handed out for the most outstanding display not part of the Pro Am competition. This year’s winning display was produced by KCAP (Kansas City Area Pyros) and entitled “KCAP Goes To The Movies”. The
KCAP group created exquisitely tight choreography perfectly combined and timed to wonderful movie scores. Another excellent display that night worth mentioning was the MoPyro firework accompaniment to the National Anthem. Also, Ryan and Heidi Sheppard’s tradition style “Anniversary Display” (Ryan and Heidi spent their honeymoon together five years ago at a Pyromania event) was great, plus an outstanding pyromusical display produced by Cassabella’s Firework, and “Fireballs” by Bill Corbett and crew (Bill makes possibly the best fireballs in the U.S. in my opinion). I also loved the “Mass Launch” display with all the scrambling comets fired by David Vannover, and the night’s thunderous finale by Team Xtreme (Bill Collins and crew) that I’m sure generated a large number of noise complaints from surrounding towns. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget the 10-inch and 12-inch shells being fired as “teasers” in between all of the displays themselves. How many events have you ever attended that shoot 10 and 12-inch shells as filler?
Next year marks the 10th Anniversary of Pyromania and it will held Sept 17th-19th again at Brookdale Farms. Part of the 2015 event will showcase the “Champion of Champions of Pro Am” competition where previous Pro Am winners will compete against one another. This alone is reason enough to put this event on your “must see” calendar for 2015. For more information on the next “Pyromania”, be sure to visit www.pyromaniaevent.com or find them on Facebook.