FREEDOMFEST: Fireworks Finale

Fireworks light up the sky over Alcoa at the 40th annual FreedomFest celebration. The event returns to the Alcoa Duck Pond on Saturday.

If this story was an overused Facebook meme, it would be the one of the character Ned Stark from “Game of Thrones,” leaning on his sword and staring into the distance with a caption that reads, “Brace yourselves: Fireworks are coming.”

Between now and next weekend, the skies over East Tennessee will resemble those eerie night vision images broadcast on network TV at the start of the Iraq war back in 2003: screaming streaks and showering sparks and spectacular balls of fire. But while it’s now legal to purchase and set off fireworks in the city of Maryville (under certain conditions; more on that later), many residents prefer leaving the pyrotechnics to the professionals. If that’s you, then consider the following official fireworks festivities to celebrate the July Fourth holiday:

The largest Blount County celebration takes place from 6-11 p.m. Saturday at the Alcoa Duck Pond, 636 Vose Road. Sponsored by the city of Alcoa, the 41st annual FreedomFest Independence Day celebration routinely draws more than 25,000 people, and after a four-year absence from 2009-12, the celebration has gotten bigger every year.

The annual Fourth of July celebration began in 1974, when Alcoa resident Rose McConnell and Alcoa High School teacher Martha Wright came up with the idea as a way to show foreign exchange students at AHS how Americans celebrated the holiday. The chief of the Alcoa Fire Department at the time, Clarence Story, suggested using the Alcoa Duck Pond as a staging area, and the American Field Service Club at the high school gave the two women $75 with which to purchase fireworks. A Loudon County fireworks vendor donated another $25 worth of pyrotechnics, and the first FreedomFest was held that year.

More than four decades later, the LaFollette-based company Pyro Shows, which once was responsible for the Labor Day extravaganza Boomsday in downtown Knoxville, handles the fireworks — roughly 4,000 pounds of them, or about 9,000 shells, according to previous-year estimates. The show, which will be choreographed to patriotic and popular music, begins at 9:45 p.m., but the entire evening is a party: The local bands Nuthin’ Fancy and Smooth Groove will perform, and after the fireworks, Smooth Groove will return to the stage.

Food vendors will be set up as well, halting sales only for the 20-minute fireworks show, and children’s activities will be set up in an area between the Duck Pond and Springbrook Pool. FreedomFest is free to attend.

Also on Saturday, the Lenoir City “Rockin’ the Docks” celebration kicks off at 1 p.m. at Lenoir City Park, with food vendors and live music starting at 5 p.m. Ethan Vincil, the RMS Band and Smooth Sailor will perform up until the 10 p.m. fireworks show over the lake. It’s free to attend.

Things get started early in Gatlinburg, with the annual Fourth of July parade kicking off at 12:01 a.m. on the holiday itself, traveling down the parkway in front of an estimated 80,000 spectators. Throughout the day, various activities take place, culminating in a fireworks display shot from the Space Needle at 10 p.m.

The downtown Knoxville “Festival on the Fourth” includes children’s activities, live music, family-friendly entertainment and more in World’s Fair Park from 4-8 p.m., followed by the annual Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Independence Day concert and a fireworks show that begins at 9:35 p.m. It’s free to attend.

Up in the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies,” the annual Townsend fireworks display will take place on the grounds of Highland Manor Inn, 7766 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway. The day’s festivities, including children’s activities and more, kick off in the afternoon, with live music beginning at 7 p.m. and fireworks to follow at sundown. It’s free to attend.

The city of Loudon will hold its annual July Fourth celebration on the holiday itself, starting at 6 p.m. in Loudon Municipal Park, with fireworks to follow at dusk.

And finally, you can always do them yourself, but be mindful of the local ordinances:

  • After July 5, it’s illegal (except for the period from Dec. 10 to Jan. 2).
  • You can only do so between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. (except on New Year’s, when you can shoot them until 1 a.m. on New Year’s Day.)
  • It has to be done on private property. (In other words, don’t do it in the middle of the road.)

Steve Wildsmith was an editor and writer for The Daily Times for nearly 17 years; a recovering addict, he now works in media and marketing for Cornerstone of Recovery, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Blount County. Contact him at wildsmithsteve@gmail.com.

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