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Former firefighter leads fireworks show over Laurel Park
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Laurel Park fireworks

What: Fireworks display by American Legion Paul E. Bolding Post 7
When: Gates open at noon, activities all day, fireworks at dark
Where: Laurel Park, 3100 Old Cleveland Highway, Gainesville
How much: $5 parking per car

Other Fourth of July events

  • Independence Day Celebration, Dawsonville. Relay races, patriotic crafts and watermelon seed-spitting contest. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Sunday, Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge, 418 Amicalola Falls Lodge Road, Dawsonville. $5 parking.
  • Sparks in the Park Independence Day Celebration, Dawsonville. Inflatable slides, dunk tank, rock wall, face painting, carnival food for sale and fireworks. Saturday, with gates opening at 5 p.m. and fireworks at dark. Rock Creek Park, 445 Martin Road, Dawsonville. Free admission and parking; various costs for activities and food.
  • Patriotic Picnic Pops concert, Gainesville. Gainesville Symphony Orchestra with Shawn Megorden. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Brenau University Amphitheater, Prior Street, Gainesville. $30 adults, $27 seniors, $12 students. Add $50 per table of eight. 770-532-5727.
  • Fourth of July Fireworks, Braselton. Dusk Sunday, Chateau Elan Winery, 100 Tour De France, Braselton. Free. 800-233-9463.
  • Fourth of July Family Celebration, Dahlonega. Pet show, ceremony, reading of the U.S. Constitution, watermelon cutting, car show, live music, parade and fireworks. Sunday, with parade at 5 p.m., fireworks at dark. North Georgia College & State University, 82 College Circle, Dahlonega. Free.
  • July Fourth Mountain Style, Helen. Watermelon eating contest, sack races, live music and a hoedown. Through 9 p.m. Sunday, Unicoi State Park and Lodge, 1788 Ga. 356 N, Helen. $5 parking.
  • Celebrate Braselton Festival, Braselton. Annual festival with live music, children’s activities, a parade and booths. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, downtown Braselton. Free.
  • Mall of Georgia’s Fabulous Fourth, Buford. Live music, kids activities, fireworks and movie. Sunday, with live music 2-9 p.m. and fireworks at dark. Mall of Georgia, 3333 Buford Drive, Buford. Free.

Each year, it goes off with a bang.

Ray Shubert, adjutant for the local American Legion, said he’s been going to the Hall County fireworks show for at least 50 years.
“My boys are grown and have children,” he said. “I took them when they were knee high.”

And for about a decade of that time, Jim Lancaster has been behind the scenes, conducting the orchestra of colorful explosions.
Fourth of July is Lancaster’s time to shine.

Though he’s the crew chief at 20-odd shows in Georgia and Tennessee each year, Lancaster has been working on the Hall County fireworks show since he was a firefighter for Hall County.

The American Legion’s Paul E. Bolding Post 7 spends between $10,000 and $20,000 on fireworks to celebrate Independence Day each year — a summer event Shubert says is the “best holiday of the year.”

“We’d have no independence if it weren’t for the veterans,” Shubert said.

Of all the years, Lancaster, an employee of the New York-based Bay Fireworks and a Vietnam veteran, said he remembers his first summer celebration at Laurel Park the most. For years before the celebration was moved from the American Legion on Riverside Drive to the North Hall park for the increased parking space, Lancaster said he imagined it as the home to the fireworks.

“You have the boats all the way around you, and you have the crowd to come in and lay out quilts and chairs,” he said. “It’s just a great venue to do something like that. I never thought I would see it happen.”

Preparation starts months in advance. To get the best fireworks possible, Lancaster said he has to place an order by March or April.

Then, he decides the timing of each explosion and fuses together the successive explosions of the finale.

Lancaster says he likes to start the show slow — his way of saying “hello” — before going into the main part of the show.

From the beginning of the 30-minute show to the end, Lancaster says he has one main goal.

“I don’t want to let the sky get totally empty,” Lancaster said.

The finale is the only part of the show Lancaster says he ever gets a chance to see, because he spends the rest of it making sure his shooters are firing each round off at the right time.

And if watching the finale go off without a hitch wasn’t enough reward, the crowd gives him another, he said.

“Your show goes and you have the people honking the horns and hear the people yelling and everything and know that you evidently put out a very good show for them and they enjoyed it,” he said.

But soon after the finale, Lancaster says he’s back to work, making sure there were no missed fuses and that duds are completely neutralized.

The cars leave, and Lancaster breaks the show down, walking the grounds to ensure there’s no dangerous debris.

“Then we clear that area, and give each other a high five and say ‘let’s go get a hot shower,’” Lancaster said. “...If I get in the shower by 2:30 a.m. on the fifth, I’ll be happy.”

And then it’s time to wait until next year.

“It’s just something that the community always enjoys, and we started it years ago,” said Dave Dellinger, a member of the Legion. “It’s like the Memorial Day parade. ... These are just patriotic days that the Legion wants to honor, so — you know how it is with something, once you start, you’ve got to keep it going.”