How suburbs add flair to their fireworks shows

Think all fireworks shows on the Fourth of July are alike? Think again. An informal look at displays happening Wednesday, July 4, across the suburbs, turned up some interesting differences that go beyond the setting and accompanying festivals.

Take the show in Itasca, for starters. Co-sponsored by the village of Itasca and Hamilton Partners, its 4th of July Celebration Event is one of the largest in the Chicago area.

Event organizers work with Melrose Pyrotechnics, based in Kingsbury, Indiana, whose producers use a computer to choreograph the show — which features up to 4,000 shells — and set it to music. The end result is a huge hit with the audience.

“The playlist is always a closely guarded secret,” says soundtrack specialist Jon Gesse, with Melrose. “But I can tell you that it’s an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary patriotic songs, with popular hits and in every genre of music.”

Itasca’s 4th of July Celebration Event opens at 4 p.m. and takes place on the corporate campus of Hamilton Lakes. Singer and guitarist Pat McKillen takes the stage at 7 p.m., followed by the popular Chicago-area cover band Maggie Speaks at 8 p.m.

Additional family entertainment includes clowns, a balloon artist and face painting, with picnic-style food available from several vendors, and a beer tent hosted by the Itasca Brewing Company.

Another village that builds a full day of family entertainment around its fireworks display is St. Charles. Its July Fourth celebration, co-sponsored by the village and park district, takes place in historic Pottawatomie Park and offers families activities to make a day of it.

Families can enjoy a round of miniature golf or let children play in the multilevel treehouse. The park itself includes 90 acres of native plants, with hiking and biking trails, as well as tennis courts, a pool and sandlots for baseball and volleyball.

The cover band Shout Out takes the stage at 6:30 p.m., leading up to the fireworks around 9:30 p.m.

Jeff Greenwald, superintendent of recreation for the St. Charles Park District, describes the fireworks display as a traditional one, with an opening, main show and grand finale. However, packed into its 20 minutes are approximately 7,600 shells.

“It’s a fast-paced show, with multiple grand finale sequences,” Greenwald says. “I think what sets ours apart is the chance to view the display from Pottawatomie Park.”

Fireworks in Vernon Hills take place as part of the village’s Summer Celebration at Century Park. They are launched from Big Bear Island and offer a rare chance to enjoy the vibrant colors — both in the sky and in their reflection on Big Bear Lake.

“Since they are shot from far away, they are safe for the crowd to watch,” says Vernon Hills Fire Marshal Ron Cielek, who works closely with the village to plan the show. “There are multiple colors throughout and in different shapes, from smiley faces to stars.”

Organizers turn to Melrose Pyrotechnics, which also produces the Itasca show as well as those on Navy Pier, and for the Chicago Bears and White Sox, to name just a few.

While the show offers a balance between high- and low-level displays, with an assortment of special effects, Gesse says the result is dazzling.

“We think of it as creating a painting in the sky,” Gesse says, “with scenes of color combinations that blend from one to another, as well as dramatic titanium salutes.”

In Mount Prospect, the Lions Club has been hosting the July Fourth festival for 80 years and families plan around it.

Set in Melas Park, the Lions Club Festival offers nearly 25 minutes of fireworks, with the cover band, Anthem, performing both before and after the show.

“Ours is a well-known and spectacular display,” says Lions Club member Armand Andreoni of Mount Prospect.

The club works with Central States Fireworks in Athens, Illinois, whose producers have crafted a show with myriad effects.

The display offers eight different varieties of “cake” fireworks, or a barrage of shells shot in rapid fire, set intermittently between more traditional scenes.

“Most of the fireworks are in red, white and blue,” says Larry Lefferts, president of Central States Fireworks, “but there’s one 50-shot cake all cast in gold.”

Lions Club members like the company’s fireworks displays so much that they bring them back to do a smaller show on the festival’s closing night, which falls this year on July 8.

In Bartlett, the July Fourth fireworks display can be seen over the Bartlett Community Center as part of the village’s 4th of July Fest, which also runs through July 8.

“It’s a beautiful and dazzling display,” says Austin Hopkins, festival chairman.

The fireworks display is set to music that can be heard the near the band stage and on 98.1 FM. Its sparkling display lights up the night sky with amazing colors and lasts nearly 25 minutes, Hopkins adds.

The pyrotechnics are one of the highlights of the festival, which also includes free children’s entertainment from noon to 2 p.m., as well as a free pedal tractor pull and the annual turbo turtle race at 4 p.m. at the Bartlett Aquatic Center.

One hour before the fireworks, the Chicagoland Skydivers will dive in from the sky and land on the festival grounds. After the fireworks, the festival reopens with music from Modern Day Romeos, as well as beer, food and the carnival until 11 p.m.