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CLASSIC: Fireworks in Jaffrey, NH

CLASSIC: Fireworks in Jaffrey, NH
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The band lays into a Shania Twain song. Pelkey turns to Shea. “Why haven’t they stopped the music yet?” At the one-minute check, Pelkey says, “Someone needs to tell the band to stop playing.” Thirty seconds, 29, 28…. Finally, as if turning down the volume on a stereo, some invisible hand fades out the band. Fifteen seconds, 10, 9, 8…. “Roll sound!” says Pelkey.

The show opens with a snake-charming melody. It floats over the crowd. Burning fuchsia strobes light up the sandy hillside. Pelkey and Shea have ten seconds to lock in the pyrodigital program to the sound track; then they watch their work unfold.

As the music builds, bigger fireworks ignite. A muffled thump, then a trail of sparks rockets skyward. Pop! A canister opens against the blackness, and bright streamers of color pulse from a center. A flash, then percussive thud felt from the feet up. Thump, pop, spark, flash, boom! Like a million shooting stars. The songs flow from classical to patriotic to pop, and the light show keeps the beat. As shells burst, Pelkey and Shea recite the names under their breath: chrysanthemum, crossette, Kamuru, piocha. People in the crowd are on their feet, shrieking. During a rocket sequence the guys utter, “C’mon, higher!”, encouraging the sizzling spaceships spinning heavenward. A fire burns in the field and Pelkey sends someone to spray it. “He’s got 30 seconds,” Shea says, knowing exactly when the next shell will burst.

Heads tilt up. Mouths hang open, craned necks start to ache. Next is a swing tune, and Pelkey conducts an invisible orchestra. Rockets rush skyward. Rainbows waterfall for Louis Armstrong. Cannons fire for the William Tell Overture. Too soon it’s the bombastic finale — seven minutes long! — when hundreds of shells blow all at once. The ground shakes, the crowd screams. Funny how screaming and rockets are the sounds of joy and wonder and war.

And then it’s over. The cheers ring so loud it seems the entire town is yelling. The last ember touches down. Volunteers, police, kids, parents, the sausage sellers, and out-of-towners — they begin the two-hour exodus from the airport.

The man behind the curtain? He shakes the hands of his crew. He is pleased with his work, a rare moment for a perfectionist. One of the old-timers, an old fireworks hand, makes his way slowly toward the huddle. He finally gets his turn. With both of his wrinkled hands he grabs Pelkeys’, his eyes wet, and tells him, “They’ve never seen anything like it.”

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