As crowds pack the banks of the East River Monday for the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks display, a small group of trained professionals will be just feet from mortars as fireworks launch out of them and explode into the sky.
Pyrotechnicians dressed in life vests and wearing protective ear mufflers will be on each of the East River barges when the fireworks launch, said Gary Souza, the pyrotechnician who designed the show.
Souza, who has been on barges in the past, will be in a midtown command center this year, communicating with the barge-based pyrotechnicians via walkie-talkie as the show takes off.
The view from the barges is unique and stunning, according to Souza, a fifth-generation pyrotechnician who first worked the show from a barge when he was 18 in 1982.
"It’s very shocking; it’s thundering; it shakes your feet and rocks your head. It thumps your chest," Souza said about the barge-view of a show’s finale. "You really can’t feel it quite as well when you’re a thousand feet away."
For Souza, there are three parts of the show that are particularly striking from the barge.
The first is the beginning, when the first fireworks launch out of the strategically placed mortars, making a "thud" as they take off.
"It strikes your chest," Souza said of the first launch. "You reach a moment of euphoria because now we’re going. We’re gone."
The second is when the largest fireworks — up to 10 inches in diameter, weighing 50 pounds — blast off from the mortar.
"The barge sinks," he said.
The third is the finale, when the show reaches its crescendo and hundreds of fireworks launch from all five barges at the same time.
"It just rumbles," he said. "It echoes your ear. And to hear the crowd roar — it’s just what we do it for."
The view from the vantage point also gives a unique perspective of even the simple fireworks that make up the show.
"They wiz by. They fly right in front of you," Souza said. "They make a very crisp, sharp crackle. Even a simple red burst, you can hear each star etching its color in the sky."
And after they explode, he said, it looks like a colorful mushroom or flower in the sky directly above the river, until they "cascade down in an ephemeral waterfall type shape."
This year, Souza said, gazers will see fireworks from nine countries shoot out of the mortars. The show has it’s own soundtrack and one original song written specifically for the display.
Viewers will also see the fireworks change color 17 different times — a record number for a show designed by Souza, he said.
Kenny Chesney, 5 Seconds of Summer, Meghan Trainor, the Radio City Rockettes, Pitbull and DNCE are set to perform at this year's "Macy's 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular" on Monday. The show will air on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.