It’s the biggest fireworks display in the state. The WBRZ Fourth of July show’s 2,176 shells burst over Baton Rouge for 22 minutes. The event attracts thousands of spectators to the east and west banks of the Mississippi River each summer.
“That in and of itself is very energizing,” says David Spear. He owns AFX Pro, the company that assembles the show every year. “Then to hear the crowd … your adrenaline is just pumping.”
With a crew of five to 10, it takes three to four days to prep for the show out on the barge. But these days, the setup has become easier thanks to technology. A handheld computer allows the crew to watch from a Plexiglas window inside the 4-by-4-foot “shooter’s shack,” as the Coast Guard calls it.
“We step on the accelerator when the show starts, and we don’t take our foot off until the very end of the show,” Spear says of the evening’s speed and intensity.
Spear’s family has been producing this show since 1986. He and his wife were inspired to start AFX Pro after the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans. The fair put on dazzling nightly fireworks shows. But Spear noticed all three fireworks companies were either out of state or owned internationally.
He saw there was a market for a fireworks company in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region. Wanting to keep money flowing to businesses in the state instead of exporting services, he started AFX Pro in February 1985. Fireworks have been his passion ever since.
“I can’t sing. I can’t dance,” he says. “But I can entertain people with fireworks.”
And that passion runs in the family. Spear’s son Brandon has been helping his dad out since he was a kid. Soon, Brandon will take Spear’s place, managing the WBRZ show himself next year. Spear says Brandon brings a fresh artistry to the firework choreography. Brandon has been recognized for his expertise internationally—he represented the U.S. in The Living Skies Come Alive International Fireworks Competition and won.
“I can do the artistry, but not nearly as well as Brandon,” Spear says. “His heart and soul is in there.”
As he reflects on his final WBRZ show this summer, Spear
says his favorite part has been watching from the barge as the traffic stops on the I-10 bridge. And hearing the cheers of joy and awe from the crowds gathered on the banks is what has kept him coming back to do the show—even after 34 years of setting up in the summer heat.
Watch the show
The fireworks start at 9 p.m. July 4 on the Baton Rouge riverfront. The display is sponsored by the Manship family and other private donors.
This article was originally published in the June 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.