This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

UB to light up sky with fireworks tradition

This July 4 marks the 20th anniversary of the UB-town of Amherst July 4 fireworks collaboration.

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    July 4 fireworks
    A UB-town of Amherst tradition | View slideshow

Published: June 30, 2011

It’s that time of year again, when the UB tradition of Fourth of July fireworks lights up the sky over Lake LaSalle, bringing the biggest crowds of the year to the campus in a free multimedia show that has become a holiday fixture for countless Western New Yorkers.

UB has been collaborating with the town of Amherst since 1991 to put on what is arguably the most dramatic fireworks display in the area.

And for the past 20 years, the grassy fields around Lake LaSalle and Baird Point—as well as the highways leading to the North Campus—have been filled with tens of thousands of spectators, from college students watching from their dormitory balconies to families climbing out of minivans.

“The Fourth of July at UB is one of those special times where the whole family packs up lawn chairs, cooler with snacks, a few footballs and Frisbees. It’s good old-fashioned fun,” says Alan Hutson, chair of the Department of Biostatistics. “The other ‘fun’ is trying to find the best spot to set up camp, and the best escape route when the fireworks are over.

“My kids are at an age where this is always something they look forward to,” says Hutson, whose children are 6, 7 and 9.

Joseph Brennan, associate vice president for university communications, says he and his family have attended the fireworks every year since moving back to Buffalo in 2008.

“I love watching the crowd, and I get a kick out of how happy everybody is,” Brennan says.

Between 40,000 and 50,000 are expected to turn up on Monday at the North Campus, based on the turnout of previous years, estimates Bryan Sidorowicz, associate director of special events at UB. And if past years hold true, thousands more will park along Millersport Highway, Sweet Home Road and other nearby roadways, making the fireworks the largest event that occurs at UB throughout the year.

“For 20 years UB has been working with the town of Amherst in support of their annual July 4 celebration and fireworks display,” says Sidorowicz. “It is great to play host to tens of thousands of area residents and allow UB to share its resources with the local community.”

And once again, the fireworks themselves, which will begin at 10 p.m., are only part of the show. This year’s Independence Day festivities at Baird Point kick off at 7 p.m. with the mellifluous musical melodies of the Friends of Harmony, East Aurora’s premier barbershop chorus. The male a cappella group will perform until 8:15 p.m.

The Erie County Wind Ensemble, conducted by Iroquois High School music teacher John Iocco, will perform familiar patriotic tunes and marches from about 8:45 p.m. until the start of the fireworks.

While the musical guests bring a distinguished pedigree—the Erie County Wind Ensemble has played at UB since the celebration began—the real star of the show is the fireworks. This year’s display is produced by Skylighters of Western New York.

In the case of inclement weather, the event will be rescheduled for July 5.

Skylighters will start setting up early Monday morning, according to Howard Wharton, fire safety technician for the university since 1998, who ensures code and safety compliances are followed. A handful of four or five “shooters” from Skylighters, with a few backup support staff, set up the equipment and ignite the rhythmic fireworks display, Wharton says. Computers synchronize the fireworks with recorded music to create an audiovisual experience. All apparatus is taken down by the end of the evening, Wharton says.

“When the show is over and you hear the cheers of the crowd, the shooters know they did their job well and they put on a good show,” says Wharton, who says he has “one of the best seats in the house” watching the show alongside the Skylighters shooters. “It’s a long day for everyone, but when you hear those people, it’s worth it.”

Just ask Kevin Lim, who earned his doctorate in communications from UB in 2009. Lim posted an extensive YouTube video of the 2006 UB fireworks display on his blog, theory.isthereason, along with his impressions and memories.

“So last night at around 9:32 p.m. Penny and I walked to our university’s North Campus where a massive fireworks display was promised to happen. The night was unusually cool and calm, with a slight threat of lightning and rain. It was perfect for a romantic walk for the both of us, since we’ll soon be parted for months yet again.

“Going on foot was a great idea, since I’ve never seen so many people make their way to UB before. All the inlet roads were filled with traffic, and people set up portable chairs everywhere around UB just so long as they could watch the night sky.

“We made our way to the lake at Baird Point where they were launching the fireworks. I guess our timing was perfect because as soon as we sat on the turf (around 10 p.m.), music and fireworks lit up the entire night.

“As I soaked in the patriotic music and explosions, it reminded me why I liked America so much…they give you all the liberties that other nations might take away, and leave it up to the individual to exercise life choices that define him or her. I see an intrinsic benefit in being self-motivated to do good, rather than to be constantly told to behave or act that way.”

Reader Comments


I've been at UB 4 years and never attended the fireworks though I live at Flint Village, but since I've graduated and will be leaving UB, I'm going to see the fireworks this year. Hope it doesn't rain.

Posted by LISA DELAINE, BIO MAJOR, 06/30/11