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Celebration of Light – USA (2014)

July 28th, 2014  |  Published in ARTS, FEATURE

Beach-Crowd_SM-copy hondacelebrationoflight.com
Photo Credit: hondacelebrationoflight.com |

If you ask tourists and locals what the best time of the year is in Vancouver, a large percentage of them (if not all) will say the Honda Celebration of Light. Annually, in late July/early August, hundreds of thousands gather around downtown’s English Bay pumping millions into the local economy for a weeklong festival of fireworks. Three (sometimes four) countries send a team of technicians to the city to present a pyro-musical show (each country has one night) that will be judged with the winner gaining colossal brand recognition and bragging rights for their nation.

Saturday’s program titled “Whole Lotta Love,” (attendance: 250,000) was executed magnificently by the United States’ Pyrotechnico, a 125 year old company whose services have been integral in the success of high profile events like the Super Bowl and National Democratic Convention. This is one of the best fireworks shows I have ever seen. The soundtrack was made up of mostly popular American music from the past 60 years including the likes of the B52s, Guns N’ Roses, and Rihanna. Unlike with other shows I have seen, this team did a great job of syncing their music. Here is the complete soundtrack listing.

The festival has changed enormously (for the better, in my opinion ) from when it first started in 1996. Back then, it was only about fireworks. Seating was first come, first served. The music was classical, the kind that put you to sleep or made you bored. There were no outdoor speakers from what I remember. If you wanted, you could listen to AM radio for the tunes. If you wanted. AM radio. You didn’t. And if you wanted to go for food, you would have to walk a fair distance to Denman or Davie away from the beach. It wasn’t that far, but it was still kind of a pain.

604now.comTo improve the culture of the event there is now afternoon programming on Sunset Beach. Sometimes there is an aerial show, not sure about this year. There is also 104.3 FM’s Shore Fest concert series busting out live music featuring Canada’s top musical acts from a stage overlooking the water. For the fireworks show, instead of crappy AM radio, the high-end speakers are employed to provide concert-quality sound. There is an area of paid-seating bleachers set up for those who want a good view and don’t want to have to beat the crowd (thousands upon thousands) to get one. If you’re hungry, below the Shore Fest stage, a string of food trucks are conveniently stationed along the walking path.

Over the years, sponsorship has grown, tourism has grown, and the event has stepped up its game. The area has a more lively feel. A social scientist might come down just to watch the flow of traffic and how people organize themselves.

Screen-shot-2013-08-05-at-11_59_06-AM-900x597 vancity buzz

Pleasure craft fill the bay as people take their boats out for a view that those on land can only wish to have. Thousands living in the densely packed residential towers of the West End come out onto their balconies, their windows reflect the colourful explosions coming from the barge. Restaurants are packed. Streets are jammed. As for the beach, that’s where you find most of the people. They come out in droves and spend the whole day and evening there. You won’t see much sand, more blankets, coolers, frisbees and other beach day related objects.

Even the most loaded words are a weak substitute for this experience. The wonder and splendor of the Celebration of Light must be taken in with one’s own senses. If you have never been to Vancouver, this is definitely a reason to come. Just do it.

Included is a video taken from last night by Terry David Silvercloud (available in 1080p). It is the best one currently available. Apparently, the camera cut out for 30 seconds, but you don’t notice it. Shaw TV supposedly uploads a recording of the performance, but they haven’t put one up yet. I’ll check back with them periodically. There are a bunch of clips on Youtube now, but not all of them are with the original music. Others were either taken from unattractive angles, they only contain a portion of the performance, or they are of sub-par video quality.

Note that in the video above at about 6:20 a drone enters the screen from the right side. I hope that person uploads their video soon so we can have a followup to this:

Here is an additional video of Saturday’s performance, a time lapse from S. Preston Photography.

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