So, say you're shooting off 10,000 fireworks in a crowd of 25,000 people on the Empire State Plaza. Hypothetically, of course. You'd want the guy in charge to be a pretty calm and focused, right? The kind that likes to keep his drama high above the ground.
That's the kind of vibe you get from Jeff Alonzo.
Fireworks are a family thing for Alonzo and his Mechanicville company. His great uncle founded Alonzo Fireworks in 1939 and ran it through 1950. His father picked it up again in the 70s.
When other kids' parents were warning them to keep away from fireworks, Alozno was helping his dad on displays. Today his son is helping him prep for tomorrow's big ESP show.
When did you work on your first fireworks show?
I was 14. I worked on a show in Galway. My mother didn't want me working on them, but somehow my dad snuck me out. I got to do everything. It was great.
What's changed in the years since you've been creating fireworks displays?
There have been a lot of changes in technology. Over the last 20 years we've gotten into shooting them electronically. It's better timing and we choreograph them to music. The computer will fire the show from start to finish and everything will be right on cue as far as effects.
When Ray Charles sings about purple mountains, the fireworks will be purple. When they sing "I love this land," there will be hearts in the sky. If theres a cymbal crash, I have one that breaks open.
With all of your years of experience, what do you see in a fireworks display that the average viewer wouldn't see?
I see more of the quality and the fine special effects. The average person just wants a lot of oohs and ahhhs. I see if a circle is completely round or if a bow tie effect actually comes out like a bow tie.
You might say, "Hey that was a heart," not thinking about whether it was a little off center or off size. I'd notice that. The biggest thing is changing the variety, though, so you are not just seeing the same old thing. I try to take it up a notch.
Is there anything you miss about the old days?
We used to manufacture a lot of fireworks and we don't really much anymore because of the cost. I miss doing that. Just because you can make anything you want to make -- neat colors and things.
What should we look out for this year that will be especially fun?
There will be some neat new colors. Mostly at the plaza the mid-level effects and multi shots -- they fan out or do a "V" in a rapid sequence.
It seems like a pretty dangerous business, have you ever had an injury on your crew?
No, not really. We've never had an injury. They might be sore the next day from lugging around so much equipment.
What's the best part about being the guy who creates the fireworks displays?
The crowd reaction at the end of the show -- making people happy.
I'm pretty lucky. I have a lot of friends out there and folks I went to school with -- they all have nice careers. But I really love what I'm doing. In this world everybody has got to work and I can't imagine that everyone loves their profession as much as I love mine.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
We originally had the town where the company is located wrong. It's been fixed. Sorry about that. Blame Greg.
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