Pyrotechnicians deal with complex chemistry and have an eye for images that last mere seconds. They get the most attention on July 4, but the other 364 days a year they’re creating heart-stopping effects at rock concerts, festivals, and even memorial displays—colorful shells that explode one’s ashes on the way to the great Independence Day picnic in the sky.
“I think fireworks are loved universally because they involve all the senses. Done right, you see the light, hear the crackle, feel the boom—you can even smell them when you’re close.”
–Brian Belgin, nicknamed “Blaster Pastor,” member Pyrotechnics Guild International and Lutheran minister
“The finale is really a chance to see choreography skills. Some finales are just what we call ‘sky puke’: 400 color shells at once. I like to see salutes and dahlias. Show me something new.”
–pyrotechician Chad Stivers
“When I was a kid, fireworks were illegal in Minnesota, but on the Iron Range the cops would just point at you and say, be careful with those.”
–Greg Glavan, operator with Northern Lighters Pyrotechnics (and dentist by day)
The final frontier is “Great Blue.” Copper chloride makes it, but it doesn’t endure in the heat of launch. Pyrotechnicians hold competitions to see who can beat this challenge—and have since the 7th century. “A lot of times you get purple when you’re trying for blue, but those little accidents can become your favorite elements later. It wasn’t what you intended, but you’re like, Yes!”–Chad Stivers