Jun 30, 2011

Lighting up the sky at the Rose Bowl is all in the family

Catherine Gaugh, Staff Writer ~ Pasadena Star News ~ 06/30/2011

Americafest at the Rose Bowl. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Gary Brown) Photo by Gary Brown

Paul Souza has watched the Americafest fireworks show at the Pasadena Rose Bowl every July 4th for longer than he can remember.

Now he runs it.

Souza is of the fifth generation of Souzas in the family fireworks business, Rialto-based Pyro Spectaculars. This year will be the fourth year he's in charge of the Americafest sky show, which will launch a little after 9 p.m. on Independence Night.

Souza and his crew of 15 will set up staging areas in advance at the Brookside Golf Course as well as inside the Bowl. The show is so big, two computers are needed at each location to set off lights and explosions to coincide with the music choreography and video features.

The family doesn't make their own fireworks anymore, so the big job is selecting them for color, shape, size and noise, and figuring out how to match timed explosions to the tempo of the music, "possibly even the words to a song," Souza said, of each show.

“The music is all very patriotic,” he said. “Lots of (John Phillip) Sousa marches and some contemporary Americana.

“The really, really popular tune for this year - it's almost a requirement - is Katy Perry's song, 'Firework.'”

Souza focuses on introducing new fireworks to each Rose Bowl show, and for this holiday, he is putting a special emphasis on fireworks that blast from several angles inside the stadium, but climb no more than 150 feet high.

“We're doing more for the ticketholders, the people who pay to get inside the Bowl,” Souza said. “We want to give them something for their money that the tailgaters outside won't see. A lot of the fireworks in the Bowl won't go above the scoreboard.”

The inside-the-bowl fireworks will be relatively quieter than most because they accompany videos on jumbo screens and scenes on the ground, all elements aimed at celebrating America's independence.

“The show is 30 minutes long, and each act tells the story of an American tradition” Souza said. “The fireworks we're using inside the Bowl are elegant.”

Souza and a second licensed pytrotechnic operator will launch the fireworks from computer keyboards, connected by cables around the bowl.

The golf course launch site will offer the big-bang, high in the sky, multiple-shot barrages of shells that will burst with color into images suggesting peonies, chrysanthemums, dahlias, even palm trees. There are special effects, too, with blasters, streamers and confetti emerging from candles, comets, mines and fireballs.

Many of the 400 shows the company will light up this holiday period, from last Saturday and July 5, most will be launched the old-fashioned way: by hand - also called manual launch. In other words, light the fire and duck, Souza said.

The manual launch approach is less expensive for communities, but the drawback is the show cannot be matched to music.


July 4
Rose Bowl
1001 Rose Bowl Drive
2 p.m. Family festival with food and fun outside the stadium
6 p.m. gates open
7 p.m. Live music featuring the Jan and Dean Show with Dean Torrence; Mariachi Divas; and Drake Bell
9:05 p.m. Fireworks
Tickets: $13. Children 7 and younger, and active military personnel, no charge
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through July 3, and 10 am. to 9 p.m. July 4, at Gate B Ticket Booth
Parking: $20; $45 for RV parking