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4th Fest continues to draw record crowds

July 11, 2011

A colorful display of fireworks lit up the sky over Happy Valley during the 2011 Central PA Fourth Fest. Photo by Amy Cherry.

The Central PA 4th Fest continues to draw a massive crowd to their annual celebration, all of which is centered around a 43-minute spectacular fireworks display touted as the one of the top three in the U.S., behind New York City and Boston.
"We're extremely pleased and happy with the turnout. Things fell in place wonderfully. We were blessed with good weather, the crowds came out and overall had a wonderful day," said 4th Fest Executive Director Bernie Keisling. "It was great to see all the families walking around. Mission accomplished."
The 4th Fest is a day-long event, with visitors packing the area surrounding Penn State's Beaver Stadium and Bryce Jordan Center early in the evening as they await the 9:15 p.m. start time for the fireworks.
Cheers emanated throughout the crowd during the display, growing louder during the noisy finale, which shook the ground with loud booms echoing throughout "Happy Valley."
Nearly 70,000 people were estimated to be in attendance at this year's show. The VIP area alone drew a crowd of approximately 5,000 spectators.
This year's "heroes"-themed show included 14,000 shells, averaging four shells per second. The awe-inspiring finale included over 80 shells per second. A total of 175 different types of shells were used.
Keisling explained that as part of the overall pyrotechnics team, a dedicated group of approximately seven volunteers develops and choreographs the show each year. They begin selecting the show's music and choosing the specific types of fireworks to accompany each song from September to December. This creative team also builds the ground sets a few weeks before the show.
He added that the group always picks the songs with the fireworks in mind and the music represents a cross-section of age groups.
"They are very experienced people and have to be familiar with the types of firework inventory and what's available in the marketplace. They go to different manufacturers to pick different shells and special shells for special effects like hearts, kisses, etc.," Keisling said. "They are extremely well-versed in the industry.
According to Keisling, many large firework companies have dedicated staff who do this job; however, the 4th Fest is unique in that this group is among the event's 400 volunteers.
The 4th Fest fireworks show is completed by Dec. 31.
Keisling said in terms of overall numbers, the same amount of shells were shot this year as in years past; however, they were more spread out.
"The fireworks have probably grown in the sense of trying to do more and more intricate work at ground level and set pieces," Keisling said.
In the past, the show consisted mainly of a high arial display, but now includes the set pieces and ground effects in addition to the overhead fireworks.
"We've seen growth in special set pieces, which can only be seen in the VIP area and is a way to thank those people who donate to the event," Keisling noted.
Among this year's set pieces were the Liberty Bell and figures of a fireman, soldier and policeman. All three were featured on separate backdrops and as their silhouette lit up along with the words "Thank You Heroes." The fireman, the first of the trio, even featured a fire hose imitating spraying water with white fireworks. This scene was set to the music of Mariah Carey's "Hero."
The show began with the reading of the "Declaration of Independence" set to patriotic music and red, white and blue fireworks. During the national anthem, small touches of red fireworks went off during the "rockets' red glare" portion of the song.
Among the crowd-favorite portions of the show were those set to Kenny Loggins' "Footloose," "Mischief Managed" from "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" movie and "Somewhere Out There" by Linda Rondstadt/Peter Ingram.
According to Keisling, who has been with the organization eight years, the biggest costs to produce the show are from the purchase of mortar boxes, shells, rails and miles of electrical cable. Shells account for approximately 30 to 40 percent of the show's cost, with the rest attributed to infrastructure.
He explained that overall, the organization raised $250,000 in cash through sponsorships and donations through parking, viewing and concessions. An additional $200,000 worth of free materials, including food, security fencing and use of machinery, is donated to the 4th Fest.

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