By Charly SHELTON and
For those who attended the annual Crescenta Valley Fireworks display on July 4 at La Crescenta Elementary, there was a bit of a disconnect between the music, the sky and the audience. Music played in bits and pieces, fireworks went off out-of-sync and sometimes not at all. Many were left to question what happened, as the show is usually spectacular. The answer is in the bungalows.
For the first time in 15 years of doing the show, Robert “Hutch” Hutchins, the lead operator for the show, had to contend with bungalows being in the center of the middle field of Crescenta Valley High School. This has been the firing location where the tubes are set up to launch the fireworks into the sky.
“The bungalows being there caused the sound of the [lift charges, the first charge to get the shells out of the tube] to be reflected back into the area where we were shooting, and that made the [music] CD skip,” said Hutch. “The [first cue] goes off and we call it the car alarm cue because it shakes them and makes the car alarms go off. And if you remember your first CD player in your car, when you went over a bump, the CD would skip. Well it’s the same thing here. It’s a helluva a bang when those lift charges go off and then the shells are in the air. The sound just reflected right off of those bungalows.”
He added that he and his crew were in the same location they have been in for the past 15 years of doing the fireworks display and that the only things different from previous years were “those bungalows.”
The fireworks show, which is normally set up and orchestrated from the covered area along the west edge of the CV High School field, was done differently this year. To compensate for the recently placed bungalows, there were two firing positions – one at the covered area where the three- and four-inch shells were launched, and one at the eastern side of the bungalows, where the cakes and 2.5-inch shells were launched. Hutch, as the operator-in-charge, was stationed in between the two firing locations so he could monitor both.
If there had been one firing location to monitor, Hutch said, he could have done something to stop the CD from skipping, likely stopping the show mid-run and moving the player to a new location.
Hutch also said that it had occurred to him during the day that the sound was going to reflect off the bungalows.
“I kept saying, ‘Boy … it’s going to be really loud down there’ but I never made the connection with the CD player. So the whole audience heard the problem as the music was skipping around. But the problem on our end was the CD has our [fireworks] firing cues on it. We had a guy sitting at the firing board listening to those cues jumping around. It would go from ‘Fire six. Fire Seven … Fire 19. Fire 20 … Fire Eight.’ You know, going all over the place.”
Hutch went on to explain that each firework has a number assigned to it as well as a location. “The vocal cues [for the person firing the firework] only say, ‘Beginning Alpha. Fire one, fire two’ and so on… ‘Beginning Beta. Fire one, fire two…’”
Because of the jumping CD, the person in charge of firing wasn’t sure which location the firework was located that was supposed to be cued.
Unfortunately, these issues prevented the show from firing according to plan. There were gaps in the show, over fired and out-of-sync cues, and some that never made it into the sky.
“A number of things happened and it just caused dead air because the CD would skip back to part of the program it had already played. So cues were getting called again that were already spent, [that firework was] gone,” Hutch said. “It also jumped over sections so those cues never got hit. At the end of the show, unfortunately there were a bunch of shells left, primarily for the finale. That’s why the finale was particularly thin.”
Complaints did not, however, only focus on the fireworks. Several attendees had issues with the sound system in general. Those seated near the front of the stage, at the west end of the La Crescenta Elementary campus, were able to hear but those closer to the east end could not hear anything. This created a problem not only for the musicians but also for those who were speaking to the audience like master of ceremonies Anthony Portantino, veteran Jennifer A. Burghdorf and presentations by Assemblymember Mike Gatto. It also affected Dana Ryan, the young singer who performed the national anthem.
These issues are all on a list and will be discussed at the CVFA wrap meeting, according to CVFA President Steve Goldsworthy.
“I honestly don’t know exactly what the issue was with the sound system but we will look at that at our recap meeting,” he said.
Each year the organization meets to discuss what went wrong and what went right at the show.
“It’s kind of like putting on a play. We [CVFA members] all know what is supposed to happen but sometimes you skip a verse and the audience doesn’t know … but we do. Every year we have challenges and we go over those challenges,” he said. “We criticize the show heavier than the audience [because] we know every detail.”
Goldsworthy added that despite the negative issues there was a lot of positive feedback. The food trucks were a great hit, there were plenty of volunteers to help and the carnival rides kept smiles on kids’ faces all day long.
The fireworks issue has already been resolved. Next year, the CD player will be moved up to the mixing station and piped down to the firing locations. Hopefully the construction at CVHS will be finished by then and the bungalows can be removed. No word is given on the expected removal date, according to Hutch.
Regarding the sound system: “We will make certain that [issue] won’t happen again,” Goldsworthy said.
Photos by Dick CLUBB, Leonard COUTIN, Robin GOLDSWORTHY, Mary O’KEEFE and Charly SHELTON