2020 PYRO-VISION: Take a blazing journey through the facts and fun of Vegas’ New Year’s Eve fireworks spectacle
“Fireworks had for her a direct and magical appeal. Their attraction was more complex than that of any other form of art. They had pattern and sequence, color and sound, brilliance and mobility; they had suspense, surprise and a faint hint of danger.” — Jan Struther, Mrs. Miniver
“Baby, you’re a firework. C’mon, let your colors burst. Make ’em go, ‘Oh! Oh! Oh!’ …” — Katy Perry
Ready to party-hearty, all you hearty partyers?
It’s Vegas, baby! It’s New Year’s Eve, baby!
It’s New Year’s Eve in Vegas, baby!
Officially, it’s America’s Party — our annual jumbo-size/souped-up/extra-energized entertainment extravaganza, this year ushering in that magically-numbered new year of 2020.
Co-produced by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA, which produces Las Vegas Newswire) and Las Vegas Events (LVE), the blowout will feature the live performances at the Fremont Street Experience and the unveiling of its all new “Viva Vision” canopy production with its $32 million upgrade.
And, ’natch, there’s the titanic topper: the massive, midnight Fireworks by Grucci display on the Strip. Join us as we wing it for a fly-by of the upcoming spectacle, aided by Newswire’s interviews with two experts: Tim Keener, LVE’s vice president/event and ticket operations (this is his 19th year coordinating our New Year’s Eve show); and the fire maestro himself, Phil Grucci, CEO/creative director of the generational family biz, Fireworks by Grucci and its manufacturing branch, Pyrotechnique by Grucci:
How big a deal is it? T-H-I-S big:
- Vegas is expected to balloon by approximately 333,000 on-the-verge-of-2020 celebrants, up 1.5 percent from last year. That crowd swell is partly thanks to an increase in available hotel rooms, up 1.6 percent, from 146,993 in 2018 to 149, 331 this year. (And as of this posting, rooms are still available.)
- Visitor spending is expected to jump 1.5 percent compared to last year, from $236.2 million to $240.2 million.
- Estimated economic impact on Las Vegas? Pole-vaulting past the $400 million mark — $400.4 million, to be precise — over last year’s $394.5 million.
Yo, Phil! Before the details, give us a quickie quote on the fireworks show goal: “The beauty of what we have the opportunity to do is move somebody’s emotions on the flick of a switch.”
Yo, Tim! Whatta ’bout you? “At midnight, you’re going to see the best show in the country.”
That’s a fact, Jack! (to borrow an expression involving the mysterious Jack). Speaking of which …
Here’s a few facts, Jack:
- Roof locations — i.e. stages — for this year’s Grucci display, from south to north: MGM Grand, Aria, Planet Hollywood, Caesars Palace, Treasure Island, The Venetian, The Strat
- Command center: 38th floor of the Rio hotel-casino
- Electrical circuits programmed to launch: 10,000-plus
- Number of pyrotechnic firings during the 7-to-8-minute show: 80,000-plus
- Effects in their inventory: Approximately 3,900
- Days to install: 4
- Hours to choreograph: 50-plus
- Size of staff (arriving Dec. 27): Around 60, including pyrotechnicians, communications specialists, safety personnel, producers and engineers
- Soundtrack: Music of the first decades of this century, including “The Big 20” by the Empire cast; “A Beautiful Day” by U2; “Raise Your Glass” by Pink; plus Mariah Carey cooing “Auld Lang Syne”
Hey, Tim, take us through the planning process. “We plan throughout the year with the seven properties with Grucci and Las Vegas Events. We’re making sure there are no changes to the rooftop over the course of the year, any construction changes that could affect where the pyrotechnic cases are set. Then there’s a fallout zone of close to 250 feet around the whole radius of the hotel to protect (from) any debris or fallout.”
But Tim, doesn’t it intensify around, say … now? “All those plans take place during the year, but then we have a meeting set in December, an all-agency meeting, where all seven hotels show up, all the participating agencies. We go over security and road closures and the movement of the product out of the bunker outside of town, a police escort, all seven box trucks through the properties. The minute the product reaches the seven hotels, we have round-the-clock security till the show.”
Hey, Phil! You’re choreographing a show in which fire dances to music on a black-sky canvas, the fireworks being like characters in a play — some loud and baroque, others soft and delicate. But how does the Strip present challenges in staging it? “Vegas is the largest stage we perform from on New Year’s Eve because of the expanse of the Strip. … And it doesn’t have to be the same shows coming from every single one of the properties.”
Wait, Phil, aren’t the shows synchronized? “We will alternate the color, the dynamics of it, moving from each stage. Also, each one of the buildings has its unique characteristics. The Stratosphere is in the round, so we can put pyrotechnics around the entire pod. (That’s) rather than the MGM, which has two wings on it, or Treasure Island and the Venetian that has that crescent shape to it. We have to keep that in mind when it comes to design. It’s called choreography for a reason.”
But Phil, Vegas seems to change its physical profile every year. Doesn’t that drive you a little … nuts? “Las Vegas is constantly moving. A building is there today and could be adjusted tomorrow. What you had last year, that building may not be there or there could be another one constructed right next to it. We’re in cities around the world, but when you come to Las Vegas, they’re sophisticated, they’re proactive. We don’t rest on the fact that we’ve been performing this show for 20 years now, it’s like the next program is a brand new one.”
Hey, Tim, how do you choose how to space out the properties to scale the viewing properly across the Strip? “We try to spread the crowd out. Because the Strip is closed on New Year’s Eve, if you had all seven properties congested together, the crowds wouldn’t fit. So, we have two at the Tropicana, intersection, two at the Flamingo, two up at Spring Mountain, and then the Stratosphere representing the north Strip and downtown.”
Deep, random, philosophical thought:
“Ignite the wick, and the firework takes flight. In that moment, I wish my existence were as simple as being set on fire and exploding in the sky.” Adam Silvera -More Happy Than Not
Hey, Tim! Give us a peek inside the command center. “We have both fire departments, city and county, Metro (police) and Homeland Security is involved, working with Metro on intel. And the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) with direct communication with the (airport) tower. There’s basically a (virtual) box overtop the seven rooftops, sky-wise. The FAA is there to keep all the helicopters out of the box prior to, and during the show. Two days before the show we have an antenna up on the rooftop. We have somebody rappel off the rooftop and slide a cable underneath the window that connects to the computer, and that cable on the rooftop feeds the signal to all seven rooftops.”
Here’s some sizzlin’ facts, Jack:
- Sparklers can burn as hot as 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit — 15 times the boiling point of water.
- Boston’s July 4th fireworks includes 5,000 pounds of explosives — approximately the same energy a human being’s heart exerts in an entire lifetime.
- Fireworks date back to China, in 200 B.C. during the Han Dynasty — and were believed to spook evil spirits.
- Colored fireworks are created by burning different metallic elements. Sodium burns yellow; lithium and strontium burn red; barium burns green. Toughest color to chemically create? Blue.
So, Phil — do you come up with new pyro-products every year for us? “There are always new products we design, some of them in fan shapes and comets that create that long, streaking line in the sky, but that doesn’t have an explosive burst on the top. When the music sounds like it’s sweeping to the left or the right, the comets will all fire to a 70-degree angle to the left and right and you have that movement to the left and right rather than the entire performance being vertical and going straight up. It’s the angle and the trajectory we fire. And the new products would be what the effect itself is.”
Random thought that’s not emotionally deep, politically correct or geographically courteous:
“You may be a redneck if your lifetime goal is to own a fireworks stand.” Jeff Foxworthy
So, Tim, what happens if Mama Nature gets naughty? “Mother Nature is going to call the show. Snow, rain, it won’t cancel the show. But high winds, when you’re shooting off these seven rooftops, with that debris potentially blowing out of our prescribed fallout zones, that’s a number we watch. It’s 10 miles per hour (of) sustained winds. We watch weather reports a week to 10 days out. We have marquee messaging set up with all the properties up and down the Strip. If there’s a slight delay, you’ll see those messages show up.”
That’s an historical fact, Jack:
- In the early 20th century, a campaign was waged against fireworks by the Society for Suppression of Unnecessary Noise (seriously), resulting in America’s first fireworks regs.
- A 2014 fireworks display in Norway set off a record 540,383 fireworks for a show lasting — no kidding — 90 minutes.
- People who create fireworks shells must wear cotton clothing — including underwear — because synthetic garb can create sparks that could detonate fireworks.
- Yes, fireworks cause dogs to freak and cats to cower. They also disorient birds, which then fly into things. (Happy New Year, birds — it’ll be over soon.)
Yo, Phil — let’s talk design and perspective. “The design aspect is so misunderstood in some cases. I spend hours and our programmers spend hours plotting out the exact device, the exact angle and what position on the building and the color and the type of effect for every single second of the program. And in some cases, there are a few hundred devices firing within a five-second sequence. All of that has to be technically driven by programming computers that have tables on them that look like Excel spreadsheets that match the time and trigger of a particular circuit. The design aspect of it is very much different than just (firing) a bunch of fireworks up in the sky and trying to win (people) over by volume.”
But Phil, how different is it for residents watching from the valley, rather than the Strip? “Once you start getting out into the valley it depends on the weather, the atmospherics. If the wind isn’t with us or there’s not a nice breeze, it affects the direction of the smoke and that’s always a challenge out there. The ideal is to have a nice 3-to-4-mile-per-hour wind moving the smoke. Watching it out in Henderson, if you have a clear line of sight down to the Stratosphere and all the way to MGM, you get a nice perspective.”
Here’s some fireworks vernacular facts, Jack.
Brocade: Large number of sparks trailing stars, falling in an umbrella pattern.
Cake: Cluster of small tubes, linked by a fuse, that fire small aerial effects at a rapid pace.
Chrysanthemum: A spherical break of colored stars
Falling Leaves: Twinkling stars falling down
Palm tree: Rising comet bursting into six large trailing stars (the fronds)
Pattern shells: Aerial shells resembling maple leaves, rings, butterflies, hearts, bows, smiley faces and snails
Crackling rain: Effect created by large, slow-burning stars within a shell, leaving a trail of glittering sparks
Bombette: An exploding star
These are really in the official fireworks glossary as facts, Jack? Like … seriously?
Bang: A loud noise (Duh!)
Dud: Fireworks that did not light or produce an effect (Duh!!)
Detonation: An exothermic chemical reaction resulting in an explosion (Duh!!!)
Finale: Usually consisting of the best, biggest and loudest fireworks to end the show (Um … usually?)
Random word picture: Since we can’t describe fireworks like this fellow, we’ll just quote him:
There were fountains of butterflies that flew glittering into the trees; there were pillars of colored fires that rose and turned into eagles or sailing ships or a phalanx of flying swans; there was a red thunderstorm and a shower of yellow rain; there was a forest of silver spears that sprang suddenly into the air with a yell like an embattled army; and came down again into the water with a hiss like a hundred hot snakes.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
So, Phil, what’s it feel like when you pull this off? “It’s a rare entertainment medium in which people can spend time with their family and friends. You can go to a concert with people who like that particular band. But when you go to a fireworks performance, you see a little 10-year-old grandson and an 82-year-old grandfather. With the exception of the wrinkles on the grandfather’s face, their expression when they’re watching the show is exactly the same.”
One last random thought, which may not be Jimi-Hendrix-kissin’-the-sky imagery, but it’s (sorta) similar and (kinda) poetic:
“The first time I kissed her was like the first time I saw fireworks, which was like the sky first kissing me in the eyeballs.” — George Watsky, Nothing Like the First Time
Right back at’cha, Vegas sky.
We love the fire in your eye.
To offer feedback on this story or suggestions for future stories on Las Vegas Newswire, contact Managing Editor Steve Bornfeld at SBornfeld@lvcva.com.