Observers say Raleigh fireworks were better, but not spectacular

pseligson@newsobserver.comJuly 8, 2013 

A view of downtown Raleigh, N.C. during a fireworks show above the Red Hat Amphitheater from the Martin Luther King Blvd. on Thursday, July 4, 2013. It was the second of two shows that lit up the night’s sky on the 4th in downtown.


— The general consensus is that this year’s Fourth of July fireworks were better than last year, but not spectacular.

With delayed starts and gaps between explosions, this is the second year that the City of Raleigh’s downtown fireworks have received mixed reviews.

Last year, city officials moved the fireworks from the State Fairgrounds to Fayetteville Street to promote business downtown and to create an all-day event. But due to the close proximity of buildings, safety regulations stipulated the pyrotechnics could only go about 300 feet high and crowds complained that the show could not be seen over most of the downtown buildings.

This year, officials added a second, later fireworks show over the Red Hat Amphitheater that reached as high as 600 feet – better, but there were still complaints.

The first display – scheduled for 9:15 p.m. – was postponed for 10 minutes to allow the sky to darken, according to Doug Grissom, assistant director of the Convention Center Complex.

Also, spectator Ian Boudreau, of Raleigh, said people on the north half of Fayetteville Street had trouble seeing the fireworks, which were launched at the south end.

Boudreau started watching the show from a parking deck near the State Capitol, then walked south to the middle of Fayetteville Street. Still, the fireworks were obscured, he said.

“There were some high bursts, and those would have been basically at the low point of where it would have been ideal,” Boudreau said.

The second show also began late.

Originally scheduled for 10:10 p.m., it was delayed until 10:23 p.m. because crowds leaving the Fayetteville Street festivities brought pedestrians too close to the launch site and they had to be directed away. This delay made for an awkward moment at the Amphitheater when an announcer counted down to the start of the fireworks and nothing happened.

Others complained of long pauses between explosions.

Tom Benninger, who works downtown at Red Hat, said he thought the first show was finished multiple times because of the lags. He would start to leave his viewing spot and then have to come when the fireworks began again.

“That stuttering at the end happened several times,” he said.

Cheri Baldree, owner of S & W Productions which operated the fireworks, said that Thursday’s high humidity caused the wicks on some fireworks to burn differently.

“We were hand-firing with flares and occasionally you’ll have a spot where it will just go out and you have to light it again,” Baldree said.

Kim Fremd, who was in town from Richmond, Va., visiting her brother, said it was great that the city provides the festival for free, but also noticed the gaps between fireworks.

“Even though we wait all year for it, we were waiting for it to end,” Fremd said.

Despite the hiccups, many said they enjoyed the shows.

Tina Pollard of Raleigh saw both shows with her daughter and said they were great. She had a spot close to where the fireworks were launched.

“It was better than last year,” Pollard said.

But the fireworks’ delays weren’t the only issue during the festivities.

According to the Raleigh Police Department, there was a disturbance at about 10 p.m. on Fayetteville Street near the Wake County Courthouse. A minor in the crowd launched bottle rockets, and the noise scared some people who began to run away. The minor was arrested and charged with causing a public disturbance.

Despite that disturbance and another one later in the evening, Ben Yannessa was happy with the event. The owner of several Fayetteville Street bars, he said the festivities brought a lot of people to downtown Raleigh.

The whole event began at noon with live music, street performers and food vendors. Officials estimated 100,000 to 150,000 people attended.

And from his vantage point on the 200 block of Fayetteville Street, Yannessa said the first fireworks show was amazing.

“I don’t see how anybody could complain about them this year,” he said.

Seligson: 919-829-8983

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