That Fourth of July Sound

A burst of white fireworks lights up the skiy, a few red fireworks sit below it and smoke collects on the groundGotta arrive early for a good spot before the amphitheater. Spread out the blanket, unpack some snacks, sit back and relax while you wait for the main attraction after dark. Fireworks: loud and flashy, it doesn’t get more American. They prove I’m not the only one wearing sunglasses at night.

The Fourth of July holiday encourages spectacles. The tradition in PA Dutch country, the place I was born and raised, honors the public demand for Americana. Many towns offering parades and entertainment and fireworks across the region. Where I grew up, however, compared to most towns around greater America, our patriotic program sounded different.

For most of my life I didn’t know my town celebrated the Fourth more…loudly. The tradition is older than me, it’s all I knew as a child. Apple pie. Hot dogs. And this particular brand of sound for the holiday. Each year, as evening arrived in the park, the military band would be playing marches and patriotic music for thousands of people. Then, the conductor would lead the players into the first notes of Tchaikovsky’s 1812  Overture.

Locals anticipated the moment, visitors ignorant to what awaited them. Other towns play dramatic music to accompany fireworks. But other towns lack what sits behind a roped off area within this park. A delight or a fright, depends on your perspective. Clearly, I’m a fan.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!

The flash-bangs of a quintet of cannon erupt and fill the airspace. Regulars would hoot and clap and holler for more. Newcomers would catch their breath only to lose it seconds later with the next barrage of cannon fire at Chief Gunner and artillery collector Charlie Smithgall’s command.

In my hometown, the town celebrates the Fourth with historic cannon supplied by Smithgall and friends and performed with the aid of a small brigade of trained volunteers. You may not have attended this annual concert, but if you saw the movies Gettysburg or Lincoln, then you heard a few of the same antique cannon.

The holiday program on Sunday, July 5, 2015, according to the local newspaper, will be the last time the cannon will fire. Tragedy. Peril. Despair. I’m crossing my whoopie-pie sticky fingers and hoping the Longs Park Amphitheater Foundation can figure out a way to secure the required permits and equipment and enthusiasm to keep the concert cannon ball rolling in 2016.

Kickstarter has a campaign to save the whales. Maybe a few well-connected, patriotic locals will launch one to save the cannons. The community loves the artillery accompaniment, a cherished tradition. Nothing sends the awed crowds home in higher spirits than those booming cannon.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Sounds like you guys really know how to put on a great fireworks show. I don’t recall ever hearing a cannon go off but it would have scared the mess outta me. Shame that this is the last year. Hopefully they can find a way to keep it going.

    1. It’s lively. And I remember there is definitely a few ambulances at the edge of the park for worst case reactions.

  2. Sounds like a fine tradition. I’m not a royalist but I do enjoy the cannon fire on the Queen’s birthday. London goes very quiet and then the booms sound out. Very moving. But where do the cannon balls go?!

    1. The holiday cannon fire blank charges, but it would be incredible to see a cannon ball fly over an empty field.

      1. Sorry, it was a rhetorical question! The fireworks are much more likely to be a hazard. Lets hope your tradition is saved.

      2. Mondays cloud my joke sightings.

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