“Night Walks”: Thunder Over Louisville 2017

Subtitled: “Good… But Let’s Not Repeat That, Shall We?” (Picture from whas11.com)

(This post is longer than most “Night Walks” because: 1) I’m home and 2) I’m more awake than I would like to be, at 2:40 AM on a Wednesday morning)

The world’s most famous horse race happens in my hometown: The Kentucky Derby (in Louisville). Leading up to the Derby, Louisville spends about 2 weeks celebrating, with events (such as the Great Steamboat Race and the Kentucky Derby Festival (Mini) Marathon), concerts, parties, parades, and way too many Mint Julips (I’ve had some before… I’m still trying to decide if I like them). The kickoff to the 2-week Derby Festival is “Thunder Over Louisville”: a 6-hour-plus air show, followed by 30 minutes of the largest fireworks show in North America. On an average year, about 600,000 people pack both Louisville and Jeffersonville (Indiana)’s waterfront’s to watch. “Thunder” is also shown on TV by one of 4 local stations, in rotation; this year, the ABC affiliate (WHAS 11) hosted the show.

“Thunder” usually starts at 3 PM; on most years, I’ll go down between 1 and 3, depending on who I’m with and where we’re at. The last 2 years, I’ve had to watch on TV, for various reasons. This year, I had to work from 6:30 PM – 6:30 AM; with the forecast of an all-day rain, temperatures 20-30 degrees cooler than the previous day, and the group that invited me moving their viewing party across town, working did not seem such a bad idea.

The rain stopped at about 2:00; the skies cleared up by 6:00.

Oh well. I did get to see the TV broadcast at work, as well as watch downtown from our camera, as well as hear the planes and fireworks from our building (I work on the edge of downtown, monitoring interstate traffic). That was a pretty interesting combination.

WHAS 11 did a really good job explaining what the different aircraft were, some of their history, and interspersing some different flying stories about the pilots and the Brig. General that was in the booth with the broadcasters. They also did a good job explaining why the crowds were much smaller than normal (“smaller” being “250,000-300,000 people”), interviewing various people in the crowd, and interviewing local famous faces, such as the mayor.

“Thunder” hit sour notes with me, however, starting with the fireworks.

WHAS 11 did a MEDIOCRE job of showing the actual fireworks. They would show a few seconds, then go to a weird angle that partially showed fireworks (but showed everything from buildings to bridges that weren’t a part of the sow), then would focus on a fan watching the fireworks. Many ‘big’ moments were missed, at least partially, including parts of the Finale. I don’t know if it was an attempt to be ‘artsy’ with the camera work… it didn’t work. It put a damper on the show.

The other problem was the soundtrack.

Each “Thunder” fireworks show comes accompanied by a musical soundtrack, played at the water front and on TV. This year’s theme was chosen by Louisville Orchestra director Teddy Abrams: “Kentucky”. Each song snippet of the first 20 minutes of the fireworks was from an artist with ties to Kentucky or southern Indiana. That meant a lot of Bluegrass and Country. My problem(s) isn’t with the songs (even though I don’t like either genre); it’s with the style of songs. You can’t expect to get hundreds of thousands of people excited by playing slow-to-medium tempoed country ballads. Or worse, choppily jumping from country to alt-rock or hip-hop; put some kind of transition in there. Loretta Lynn to Cage The Elephant to Abram’s debut work (Classical) just makes the brain go: “huh??”.

Music choices and bad camera work aside, it was still a fun show to watch, especially when Howitzers, shot from the 2nd Street Bridge, started rattling out building, 1/2 mile away. After the fireworks, Louisville experiences the “fun” of getting over 600,000 people out of downtown… usually. Smaller crowds, a better-than-normal traffic plan, and a nice co-op effort between KYTC, TRIMARC, and Louisville Police, led to most of the traffic head aches being resolved by 11:30, opposed to 1-2 AM.

It also led to a very long, uneventful shift. Silver lining: I got some homework taken care of.

I do not know who is hosting Thunder 2018. I hope that next year ends a 4-year drought of watching on TV and not seeing the fireworks in person, whether it’s due to work, a location change for a watch party, or a last-second change of plans.I think I’ll request that weekend off in mid-January, next year. This year’s “Thunder” was good, but that’s not how I want to spend another one.

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