Out with a Bang!
Solon Springs is sending summer off with a bang this weekend. The Labor Day celebration features live music, food vendors and plenty of cakes, but not the kind you eat. The main event is a 20-minute fireworks display put on by the Solon Springs Friends of Fireworks. The local pyro enthusiasts have been planning and producing such displays for years.
“It’s a great time and we put on a great show,” said lead shooter Duane Lottig. No one will leave disappointed, he said.
Meg Thoreson, who owns Solon Springs Mercantile with her husband, Ken, has never lit a firework in her life. But the couple has hosted the Labor Day fireworks on their store property for the past two years.
“It’s really fun to be that close to the fireworks,” Thoreson said. “Some people love that proximity to the show.”
The displays can trace their origin back to a childhood joy.
“Since I was a little kid I just always loved fireworks,” said Lottig. His favorites back then were firecrackers, followed by smoke bombs and bottle rockets. Today, he’s turned pyrotechnics into a hobby.
“I’m still playing with it, just to a bigger scale,” Lottig said.
It started with Labor Day displays in his back yard, opened to the public through social media. The shows were so well received that crowds swelled.
“We started out by just shooting a few fireworks,” said fellow pyro Chuck Shingledecker. “But each year it grew until we had more people attending than the property had room for.”
Three years ago, they sought a bigger venue. The Thoresons stepped up to offer one.
“It’s great to be able to work with another local business to put on something everyone enjoys,” Thoreson said. She’s been impressed by the professionalism shown by the fireworks enthusiasts and crowds have continued to grow. Lottig estimated about 1,000 people watched last year’s display.
Last week, Lottig and Shingledecker rolled out the schematics and plotted this year’s display in the making. These are 1.4-grade consumer fireworks — not professional grade — like Superior and Duluth fire on the Fourth of July. But with precision and care, the group fine tunes a show that packs a punch. From racks of shells to square cakes packed with tubes of fireworks, each element is mapped out in detail — from its spot on the ground and its order in the display to which fuse to attach. The elements are then connected to a remote firing system. Experience has taught these pyros which fuse burns instantly, and which takes it’s time. With 24 different shell effects to choose from, members can discern a peony, which sends marbles of color arching toward the crowd, from a willow, which leaves shimmering trails in the sky. And they love to mix and match them.
“Some like the boom,” Shingledecker said. “I like the colors and effects.” Members let their creativity loose, contributing to a well-rounded show.
“It never ceases to thrill me when you stand there, the crack of shells as they rocket skyward,” Lottig said.
The Friends have had such success with their Labor Day displays that they’ve been tasked with putting on the Solon Springs Fourth of July fireworks shows the last few years. This summer the display spanned three boats 200-feet out in the water.
“The grand finale for the Fourth was about 70 seconds,” Lottig said. “In 70 seconds we shot of $800 worth of pyro but it was fantastic.” Film of the finale on YouTube includes the crowd’s enthusiastic response.
The group is known for their grand finales, and their attention to detail. A number of core members, including Lottig, his wife Margot and Shingledecker, have taken the Pyrotechnic Guild International certification course. It’s similar to getting Red Cross first aid certification, the members said. Lottig applies for a permit from the village or town each time they start working on a display, and safety is the top concern.
“It’s been fun learning about the craft and this promises to be the best event yet,” Shingledecker said.
To fund the more than $2,000 needed to put on the Labor Day show, the Friends have developed a sponsorship program. The 22 contributors are featured prominently on a wall of sponsors beside the mercantile. Donations are also accepted at the show, which is free and open to the public. This year, business donations were so good that the group will donate 50 percent of event-day donations to the Solon Springs Volunteer Fire Department. It may seem ironic for pyros to be supporting the fire department, but it’s a good match.
“We just wanted to give a little back,” Lottig said. “Volunteer fire departments do a phenomenal job for communities.” And the Solon Springs department has always been on hand to help during fireworks displays.
The Labor Day Celebration kicks off at 6 p.m. Sunday at Solon Springs Mercantile, 11287 S. Mertzig Parkway, with the fireworks display at dark. Everyone is invited to attend, and bring a lawnchair. For more information on the Solon Springs Friends of Fireworks or to donate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.