Words & Deeds

Don’t blow up, but Boise needs more fireworks, not less

Watching our city’s Fourth of July fireworks display from a Northwest Boise vantage point, my eyes wandered east to the glowing Table Rock cross. Despite nightfall, the dark outline of 2,500 acres of charred Foothills earth was clearly visible.

All I could think was: Man, Boise needs more fireworks.

I’m not talking about the illegal-to-shoot kind that started last week’s Table Rock blaze and incinerated a home. I’m talking about the pyro display that blew minds every year at the long-running Boise River Festival on the final weekend of June.

Boise might be Idaho’s biggest city, but it’s far from Idaho’s biggest fireworks party.

Pocatello was the place to be on the Fourth of July this year. Or, heck, maybe Melba.

Shouldn’t Idaho’s capital have the most eye-popping Independence Day fireworks display?

I’m sure Monday’s show in Ann Morrison Park was cool if you were right under it. Even viewed from a distance, it was fun. But it didn’t stand out all that much from other aerials exploding across the Treasure Valley sky. Then again, we should be thankful to have a city fireworks display at all. After the Boise River Festival went kaput in 2003, we survived without a show until fireworks returned to the park in 2007.

But if you remember the River Festival, it’s hard not to feel nostalgic. It’s like comparing a firecracker to a hand grenade. It’s why many of us watched this week’s Fourth of July fireworks show from our backyards rather than making the short trek to the park. Or maybe didn’t watch them at all. “I saw the picture in the paper,” admits Boise River Festival founder Steve Schmader, now president and CEO of the Boise-based International Festivals & Events Association.

The Boise fireworks display — put on this year by Western Display Fireworks of Oregon — cost $25,000 plus rooms at The Grove Hotel. That’s a decent budget, Schmader says — “not embarrassing by any means.”

Except that Pocatello’s July 4 fireworks display was roughly $50,000. It highlighted the Biggest Show in Idaho Music Festival and Extravaganza at the Portneuf Wellness Complex.

Boise’s overall Ann Morrison Park event cost $38,000 including the fireworks, security, tents, tables, portable toilets and other infrastructure. The city ponied up $5,000. The rest comes from sponsors.

During the peak of its 13-year run, the River Festival spent $75,000 on its fireworks, Schmader says. In today’s dollars, we’re talking six figures. Choreographed to music, the aerials were breathtaking.

“At the time,” Schmader says proudly, “it was one of the biggest shows in the country.”

Nowadays, Boise’s Fourth of July display ranks among the Gem State’s top four, reckons Lloyd Stubbs, Idaho divisional manager for California-based Fireworks America.

“Pocatello, Idaho, is No. 1 in the state,” says Stubbs, 73, who lives west of Kuna and has been delivering pyro displays for 46 years — including at Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego. “Pocatello, then Idaho Falls, then Coeur d’Alene No. 3.”

Stubbs’ company handled 20 Fourth of July shows in Idaho this year, he says.

“The amazing thing was Melba was probably one of the best in Southern Idaho,” he adds.

Stubbs also oversaw fireworks June 29 at the God & Country Festival at the Ford Idaho Center Amphitheater. Because he sits on the festival board and believes in the event, they got some extra bang for their $15,000, Stubbs says. (Statesman Business Editor David Staats, who attended, was impressed.)

A larger budget doesn’t guarantee a superior fireworks show. Pyrotechnics is a craft. And despite the fact that it’s basically blowing up money in the sky, some of us really, really appreciate this type of art.

“A good fireworks show, if really well done to the music, I think you can create a lot of emotions,” Schmader says. “There’s just something about them. People like lights to begin with, too, and with the effects and the things they can do with shells these days, it’s remarkable what you can generate in terms of memories and legacies and emotions.”

The emotion I’m getting? Jealousy. Jealousy that Pocatello had better fireworks.

Of course, I’m also the guy who phoned Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan a few years ago with the idea of making Ann Morrison Park a supervised fireworks zone — a place to shoot illegal fireworks for a week or two under the watchful eye of the Boise Fire Department.

“It’s not just about starting fires,” he said back then. “It’s about being injured.”

With Doan now lobbying to ban sales of many fireworks in Idaho, and with Boise getting blown away by Pocatello, my feelings already are hurt.

Michael Deeds: 208-377-6407, @michaeldeeds