Remember that episode of 30 Rock where Alec Baldwin attempts to best his corporate nemesis in a boardroom showdown? As alpha a male as they come, Baldwin gets the upper hand when he wows his bosses with a surefire pitch: a televised "salute to fireworks" to be held in Rockefeller Center.
OK, so it turns disastrous when New Yorkers perceive the fiery blast as a terrorist attack. Despite his regional error in judgment, though, Baldwin had the right idea. As American as apple pie and indiscriminate displays of firepower, fireworks have been a cornerstone of American celebration since Independence Day 1777. For 232 years, we've been a country mesmerized by bombs bursting in air and rockets' red glare. C'mon, really—who wants a fireworks display that doesn't resemble a terrorist attack?
In the days leading up to that of our independence, you will surely notice an exponential increase in gunshot-like pops as Nashvillians stock up on Roman candles, Screaming Moon Travelers, flowers and mortars with which to celebrate the Redcoats' defeat. To make sure you greet July 5 with the same number of digits you had on July 3, we offer some helpful information to assure you a July 4 that's safe yet filled—oh yes—with the piercing shrieks of those who sense they've barely cheated death.
Since fireworks sales are not permitted in Nashville, the closest and quickest way to obtain them is to buy them from tents that border the Davidson County line. These tents are mostly owned and operated by large fireworks stores, like those that light up the horizon near the Tennessee-Georgia state line. You don't have travel as far as Chattanooga, however, to get both variety and firepower, as well as cheaper prices than you will find at a tent.
Just off I-40 in Lebanon, a mere 31 miles from downtown Nashville, sits Surefire Fireworks (1946 Murfreesboro Road, 615-449-0558). The 6,000-square-foot family-owned-and-operated establishment is a pyromaniac's paradise, boasting a massive selection and a firework-savvy staff who will blow you away, so to speak, with their knowledge of all things pyrotechnic.
Run by Brenda Bowman-Rahrer and her daughter Tammy Walpole—who Rahrer says grew up around fireworks ("She loved them then and she loves them now")—Surefire started out 35 years ago in tents. Ten years ago, the business set up in the fixed location it inhabits now, making it through the off season with Halloween costumes and wedding supplies. But in the weeks preceding July 4, they will set up 40 tents on the Davidson County perimeter like an invading army. In that brief span, they say, they will make some 80 percent of their yearly fireworks sales.
The fireworks you are able to buy for domestic use are considered C-class. B-class is what gets shot off a barge on the Cumberland every Independence Day. A-class is dynamite. In order to get the most bang for your buck, to coin a phrase, Walpole guided the Scene through your many options for restaging the fall of Saigon in your backyard.
On a budget of $50, Walpole says, your best bets are "reloadables"—tubes that fire off mortars. One popular reloadable is the TNT Red Devil ($25), packaged with a firing tube and several colorful shots. Not enough? Walpole recommends either the 36-shell Goliath ($80) or the 72-shot monster Excalibur ($225), which are not only more colorful but also have multiple "breaks." Translated from firework-biz lingo, that basically means "big-ass kabooms."
If you're going for the no-holds-barred, blowing-up-the-Death-Star treatment, though, Walpole says you want "heavyweights." These are the self-contained fireworks-show-in-a-box deals that are both more powerful and more sophisticated than reloadables, she explains. The most popular heavyweight goes by One Bad Mother ($40). Sheer firepower's your bag? The aptly named Show Stopper ($90) packs the legal limit into "one massive shot."
Which brings us to the combustible elephant in the room—safety. We all remember the bottle-rocket wars and M-80 mishaps of our reckless youth. We've all seen the Darwin Awards reports about the rocket scientist who decided he'd strap a mortar to his helmet, or the merry Eastern Europeans who played chicken with lit firecrackers—in their mouths. However much these stunts aid the process of natural selection, they're definitely a buzzkill (if they happen to you, anyway).
Walpole stresses that as long as you follow the instructions on the packaging—a novel concept to most fireworks dabblers—all fireworks are safe. In the case of "duds," fireworks that fail to discharge, Walpole says that they are increasingly less common. She advises waiting 10 to 15 minutes before going near one...and never, ever, to peek down a launching tube. She added that bottle rockets—the cheapest and most popular kind of firecracker—cause the greatest number of injuries due to misuse.
But not even bodily harm can deter a true fireworks fanatic. Walpole recalls one tent patron who suffered a major injury when he tried to modify an Excalibur, only to have it return the favor by firing a round into his leg. Next year, though, you-know-who was first in line to buy an Excalibur. That's what makes fireworks a perfect icon for America—the country that doesn't know how, or when, to quit.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 615-844-9404.
“Rules are good! Without rules, we would have anarchy! If we have anarchy, then I…
Republican Jesus rides again. To hell with Ramsey and to hell with the Tennessean.
Fry 'em. The bastards deserve it. I have absolutely no pity for murderers, drug dealers…
The gentrification of East Nashville has done great harm to less-wealthy individuals in the area…
Nashville's a great town, but Memphis wins this contest, if contest it is. Staking a…