May 7th was my fourth annual Renn Fayre Fireworks show, part of the end of the year celebration at Reed College, where I graduated in 2008. [Video at bottom of post if you are impatient!]
As usual, we set up on the rugby field with five firing positions across 200'. There was no shortage of product, with 117 500g cakes, 69 200g cakes, 110 1.75" shells and mines, and two large 1.3G fan cakes. For added safety, we also set up a silt fence across the whole line to prevent any tipped cakes from firing towards the audience.
The big question this year was weather, with a forecast of showers and temperatures in the mid 40's to low 50's. We ended up getting showers on and off from around 1pm to 6pm, leading to occasional scrambles to cover product as a new shower began, then uncovering things to get back to work when it stopped. The start and stop setup was a bit annoying, but luckily we had lots of cardboard and plastic sheeting to keep things relatively dry.
The most significant change I made to the show this year was the music. In the past I've used post-rock (Explosions in the Sky in 2008, Sigur Ros in 2009, Exxasens in 2010) and at my wife's urging, I tried something different this year. Two songs were by Portland locals MarchFourth Marching Band, one by New Orleans jazz/funk band Galactic, and one song by the funk masters of Funkadelic. MarchFourth has actually played at Reed during Renn Fayre several times and are great fun, so I was hoping to bring back a lot of good memories by using them, and the horns are great for syncing with shells and mines. The crowd seemed to really enjoy the music and I had a lot of fun working with the songs, so everyone was happy!
Everyone on the crew did a great job and despite the weather and relatively large number of cues, we were basically done by 6:30pm. It was certainly a nice change from 2009, when I was running around at 9pm trying to wire up the last fountains after giving up on wiring some shells I had planned to include in the finale.
First Song - Space Hole by MarchFourth
The first song of the show is probably MarchFouth's most recognizable, and has a nice lead in. One of the five cakes that were all cued to go a the start was mis-fused and fired the last volley right away, but the opening still looked pretty good. One of the two Runaway Trains that fired next went much faster than the other, but the big problem came on the next cue when the music kept playing but the firing system stopped working for some reason. With my heart racing, I ran over to the firing system to see what was going on, but there wasn't much I could do about it. Andy (who was running the system) stopped it after another minute or so, restarted the whole thing, and picked up on the next cue in the script. Fortunately the audience didn't get too worked up about it and it only took a few minutes to get things moving again, but it was a scary moment, especially after an equipment failure screwed up my St Louis show last fall. After that bump in the road, the rest of the show went very well, with surprisingly few cakes failing due to moisture. One highlight of this section of the show was using five of the old WW Swimming Pearls, which looked great and fit the music very well.
Second Song - Boe Money by Galactic
I used a lot of Iron Revenger shells in pairs of V's in this song, which looked great with the tails on them. Some of the UP cakes in this section looked especially nice, such as The Big Guns and Bad Attitude. Two GB LAPD cakes were also for this song and had very large symmetrical breaks. Five BP Home on the Range made a nice end of the song.
Third Song - Freestyle for Miles by MarchFourth
I went a little overboard with three Winda Deadly Bomber at the start of this song when two would have been fine, but the color and glitter of the cake still looked fantastic. UP Pow Bam followed, and every time I use it I am impressed with the size and symmetry of the breaks. A front of whistling mines was included here when I realized I should include some whistle because the crowd likes it, and mines are a way to keep it short (rather than using annoying Saturn Missile Batteries). The song also had all my z-cakes (FOA Chain Reaction and WW Kaleidoscope Z), which had some spectacular color. The end of this song was my gold section, a short nod to the official theme of Renn Fayre this year (Gold Rush). There were some green and RWB breaks in there too and I can't figure out where they came from because they don't match any of the cakes I used, they may have been accidental inserts from the factory in a WW 3" Brocade Willows.
Fourth and final song - Super Stupid by Funkadelic
A classic song with some great guitar, I figured it would be perfect for a finale and a good change from the horn-heavy songs of the rest of the show. I started this song with UP Blown Away, a great little five shot crossette cake, which was followed by two Winda Deadly Bomber, one of which didn't fire. My goal for the finale this year was more of a steady build than the sudden explosion I've done before, I think I mostly accomplished that. I included two very nice 1.3G fake cakes for some extra power, though one didn't fire and the other inevitably went faster than expected while many of the 1.4G cakes went longer! I thought the finale still looked quite good despite this, with a nice build, good sky coverage, and lots of color variety without too much generic sky puke.
Despite the hiccup early in the show, everything else went about as well as I could hope for. The product looked great overall, the times where something didn't fire were few and not too noticeable, and the timing was much better than last year. I had a great time and hope to do it again next year!
Big thanks to Rod and Andy at Wolverine West, Harold, JT, and everyone else that helped set up, shoot, and take down the show! And thanks to Jeremy at Reed for coordinating from the school end.
More Renn Fayre Fireworks shows