Pyrotechnicians share what goes into making Nashville's Fourth of July fireworks show

Meet the people behind Nashville's fireworks show
Posted at 3:42 PM, Jul 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-05 06:14:00-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — While spectators look up at the night sky this Fourth of July, Larry Trotter will be looking down, carefully timing his sheet music.

"We know that barrage of shells takes five seconds from the time we hit the switch; it's five seconds until it goes off in the air," said Trotter. "So, I back-time in the music five seconds, and I put cue one right there."

For months, he's choreographed the fireworks show — each shell will be fired off, carefully paired with a musical note.

"It's like we've done it over and over again, it's just, you don't want to mess up," said Trotter. "You just don't want to mess up."

After Trotter gives the cue, Lansden Hill and a team of seven others will flip a switch from the safety of a steel bunker. It's the only thing separating them from thousands of shells exploding just a few feet away.

"We choreograph our show — our fireworks — to the symphony, but the symphony is the lead and we're the follow," said Hill, the president of Pyro Shows, Inc. "So, we have already scripted the show based on the music on the scores."

The thousands of shells sit on 16 flatbeds, barricaded by 400,000 pounds of sand.

It's a performance unlike any other, but one in which you may never actually see the artist.

"I remember telling somebody a long time ago: if you can't sing, and you can't dance, but you crave to perform, fireworks is a pretty good gig," said Hill.

It's a gig that Hill has been doing for more than 50 years.

While every show is different from the last, one thing stays the same.

"From right now until showtime, my stomach will get into bigger and bigger knots," said Hill.

It's a crescendo of jitters, building up to that anticipated moment.

"And the conductor's looking at me, and the person from the Convention Visitors Corporation points and says, 'we're good,' and I look at the conductor and I say, 'we're good,' and he raises his baton... oh yeah," Trotter said.

And just like that, the show begins.

"But like in contact sports, after you take that first lick, it's game on," said Trotter. "You're fine."

So when you look up, in awe of the spectacle of lights and colors, think of those behind the scenes who will be thinking of you too.

"Dollars and cents is not the pay that keeps you here," said Hill. "It's being able to perform a place like this in front of a hometown audience — hear the cheers, hear the boats honk or blow their horns — and know that you gave somebody just a little bit of distraction, a little bit of relief from their day to day life. So, it's the bringing pleasure to people."