the Grand Finale
“Count down with me.. 10.9.8.7.188.8.131.52.2.1……” said the Voice from the crane held speakers.
Boom… goes the fireball as the audience cheers, filling the air with a cacophony of sounds and heat. The Missouri Pyrotechnics Association begins the 15th annual Pyromusical competition called…
The Sky Wars Invitational Fireworks Championship.
The fireball shot up into the sky and our mouths dropped. The Voice in the speakers had prepared us, but we were still shocked and awed by it. I was one of 8000 people in a field, staring at the sky just outside Wright City.
This was firework country and the Patriots of Boom gathered to sooth their pyromania with a fall event filled with Professional and Hobbyist Firework technicians.
How is a pyromanic born?
Rob Cima, one of creators of Sky Wars tells a tale of his father handing him a firecracker and lit Salem cigarette and letting his child dangerously have a firebug moment. Combustion is always on the mind of these Enthusiasts. The creators of these events usually have day jobs, and might do a professional event a couple times a year, but mostly it’s a hobby.
Rob Cima puts it in this interview.. via the Mich Mash podcast…
It’s really just a hobby gone mad.
The early seeds of Sky Wars came from an event called St Louis Shoot, where professionals and hobbyists put on firework displays for themselves in the fall and after 15 years, this has become one of the top Pyrotechnical events of the year.
We the lucky Public, get to enjoy the fruits of this effort!
Yet, Pyrotechnics is definitely an Art, let’s get that out of the way and this subculture of pyromaniacs* (*without a medical diagnosis) are in the forefront of a new area of Firework Artistic Expression using music, fire and coordinated technology. The audience, the public, the crowd and the “fanboys” are in Wright City to appreciate this Art.. 8000 Pyromaniacs appreciating a particular brand of Art!
The Art of things going Boom.
The Art of Light dancing on smoke.
The Art of laying precision firepower and marking the sky with glowing embers.
An Art, that is also highly technical, dangerous and illegal in many parts of America. Permits are a pain in the ass, with the ATF, the Government regulations at its worse and yet…. those that love fireworks will do the paperwork, bribe local officials and jump through legal hoops, as long as they get to light a match, push a button and detonate the sky with fire.
A different annual Pyrotechnics Convention in Fargo was cancelled this year because of Covid as was most of the 4th of July events across the Country. For the Pyromaniac….Sky Wars is THE event, the insider space for all those who love fireworks and the Freedom that comes with danger. Those shells soaring into the scorching sky and blowing up in ornament fashion are considered a birthright of every American in Warren County Missouri.
If our Covid Summer is any indication, there are a lot of firework fans, as sales shot up 300 percent this year. Pyrotechnics is not just a hobby for the 4th of July or New Years Eve, pyrotechnics isn’t just a passion for fireworks, it is a logistical exercise with new digital technology, computerized simulations and remote launchpads.
The Pyromaniacs and true Patriots in Wright City keep fireworks legal, masks optional, believe in freedom and the right to send rockets into sky. On Sept 26, 2020, we all signed a waiver and risked our safety to experience the Sky Wars and feel the Boom.
Oh… the beauty of the massive fireballs, the glorious shake in your ears from screamers, your eyes ablaze with colors streaming sideways on light breezes and the patterns ….like supernovas, trees, veins, circles and smoke. So much smoke… the meadow disappears and only light and shadow dance on spectacular visions more hallucinatory than a psychedelic trip.
The Voice called them Pyromusicals, with fireworks, lasers, firebombs and loud… loud music. The Star Spangled Banner is a popular opener, and the tunes shift with each new generation creating unique musical compositions. Emo mixes with Katy Perry and Pink Floyd is followed by metal, and this year original music is produced exclusively for 2 minutes of Pyro Art by one Artist, thousands of hours of work go into each and every second of this 2 hour spectacular event.
To experience it first hand is to be immersed in a cacophony of light sensation with careful patterns of flashes, bursts, fountains, shells, willows and illuminations. When the crowd goes universally silent and lets out a collective gasp for a particularly fury of fire flowers. The rush toward a Grand Finale is slow or fast depending on the maturity of the Artist, hunching over a console, hundreds of yards away from the detonation location of thousands of rockets and shells.
A fire bomb from some guys from Tennessee send out a shock wave of heat felt in the “back” ….as if the field had a bad spot ….with a mere 650 gallons of gasoline used for for a several seconds of a fireball. Some might consider the fireballs crude compared to the finesse of a coordinated Pyromusical experience, but it’s a crowd favorite as some add the element to their own unique Sky Displays.
The launchpad and main field had hundreds of trainees, professional and hobbyist technicians here for 3 days learning, teaching and making sure those little fires, falling onto the open field was quickly extinguished as they yelled “incoming” in a loud warning, as fragments float astray into a happy crowd more than willing to stamp out the random fire.
Sky Wars is laid out like any modern festival with a Food court, security, dirt parking lots, VIP back stage areas, Side acts, an Info booth, first aid and the Main Stage. As everyone settles into a self chosen home camp with blankets, folding chairs, regular chairs, metal chairs and bare asses.
Fun was had by all….
The story goes the Mo-Pyro Association has done an annual event focused around Pyromusicals… in particular for 15 years. I talk more about it in Part 1 but that doesn’t matter now, the clear winner by all accounts is settled in history. ……………….Part 1
Here it was…two competing Pyrotechnic events within a week span, a couple miles from each other. The Sky Wars as the Mo Pyro Association cleverly called it and Pyromania at Cedar Lake Winery. The competition is great for the public needing something to fill the empty edges of a lost summer.
Here we get to the beating heart of this war of words between two sides, fighting over ……whatever…don’t care. In the end, it’s about the Art. Those satisfying punctures of light, color, bleeding outwards in streaming beams of fire. The sexy pulse of rockets blasting, whizzing upwards in furious design. The beauty is momentary, like a shooting star, a sunset or a seasonal flower.
At Sky Wars, the focus was on the Pyrotechnics, the competition, while the Kiddie Village, Food Court and Music was for the daytime hours and the funding of this expensive hobby effort.
A great cover band called Foreplay, rocked some tunes for us. Classic rock, Led Zeppelin, metal, alternative and odd ducks like Violent Femmes. I danced to live music for the first time this year and it was beautiful.
How much had I missed the Festival scene this year? Let’s just say I regret nothing and treasure the experience.
My family played with glow sticks, as vendors sold noisy light toys, while the food trucks provided Funnel cakes, Corndogs and Tacos…. even the beer was a nice mix of local and typical fare. Bathrooms stayed clean and everyone was happy and friendly for the length of the event. It was like a big family, a subculture of firework enthusiasts gladly enjoying the freedom of a large public gathering for visual pleasures with their own unique family unit.
That is.. if your family likes to blow up rockets…sending fireballs, shells, deep into the sky in bursting color, if your family dances like no one is watching, and loves to play at the edge of a giant crowd….. partaking in Pyromania and American Patriotic feelings of Freedom.
When the Voice came on and told us the dimensions of the next showcased rocket…we excitedly stared up waiting for that little white light moving shifty up into the dark, manifesting light and showering the wild farm land with a glow. When the fireballs simultaneously provide 5 orange balls of light….then it becomes magic.
This story was instantly fascinating to me and hence why I wrote two articles. It has everything, from strange undergrounds scenes, freedom loving Patriots, to the Pyromania Sky Wars in Warren County. What began as a war between two organizations over legal issues, seemed mute and silly in the awe I discovered within the scene. There is another name for people like this… we call them outlaws, only ones that are good at governmental paperwork.
If the face of complete cancellation, these “outlaws” forged ahead in Wright City with two Firework themed events, drawing at least 20,000 to the region for tourism and the struggling economy. People came from Las Vegas, Boston, Tennessee and the list goes on, simply to experience the best Fireworks in the country (this year for sure).
People wore masks (or didn’t), generally there was room for everyone, hand sanitizers available and spaced out entrances. Covid was a risk but 8000 people dared to face the crowds and the prospect, simply to see some fireworks. Ticket costs didn’t matter as my family danced to music, stared at the sky from camping chairs and watched a fire spinner do his art. Some pyromanics forgo the technology for good old fashioned combustible showcasing.
Is it a sport? Is it a spectacle? It is party? Is it Art?
How far will you go to keep doing your art?
The fireball guys rented a 1000 gallon fuel truck, the Missouri Pyrotechnical Association dropped a lot money and the only Pyrotechnical convention of 2020 was a success. The local officials handled traffic, the volunteers asked for donations, dealt with drama and vendors took a risk. While the Pyromaniacs gloriously display epic patterns of fire, smoke and noise set to musical compositions.
and the Sky went Boom….
…..all photos were taken by Kathleen Conlon or Lew Blink.