I was expecting the traditional fireworks display, albeit it shorter. A rocket would lift off. You watch it soar. It explodes. Crowd “ahhhhhhs.” Pause. Repeat. Then the big finale. Instead what I got was “BamBamBam BamBamBamBam!!” A continuous loop of shattered rainbows and falling stars. For 10 minutes. At least. Now that’s how you celebrate the Fourth!
The scene was the Bethel Blast, a community Independence Day celebration with little fanfare in one of the more remote areas of Watauga County. It’s 20 minutes from Boone and borders Tennessee. The Blast itself takes place at Bethel Elementary, the smallest of the nine schools in the county. But have no doubt, this is a major event that attracts thousands.
Independence Day in the High County is like a menu in a fine restaurant. So much variety. Each event has its own spice. Would you like the fireworks show and parade in Boone? Or a boat show on Watauga Lake followed by fireworks? Or something at a higher elevation, like fireworks in Banner Elk?
This year we made our first trip to the Blast. We were told there’d be live music, food and, of course, fireworks. After the afternoon rain dispersed, we headed off to holiday parts unknown. Just how big could this Blast be? Short answer – phenomenally big.
The Blast started at 5 and we got there just after six. The school was surrounded by cars parked in imaginative angles. A large tent was in the center of the school field, orbited by an overflow crowd. The music was as fine as the weather. Clear skies with a cool breeze. This was going to be a good night.
We walked with our lawn chairs and joined friends on the field. There were easily close to 2,000 people there. (And that’s down from last year, I was told, due possibly to the earlier rain). Under the picnic shelter were three long tables lined with food: fresh chopped BBQ with slaw and beans. Another tent had about six large tubs full of ice and sodas. All free. That’s right. Free. No charge. Happy Independence Day!
But that’s not the best part. There was also a tent dedicated to desserts. It was potluck style. People brought their best sweets and lined them up for public consumption. My wife donated homemade sweet-kabobs – watermelons slices speared with marshmellows and gummy worms. (They didn’t last long).
Behind the tent was a family’s dream day at the park. There was an area for kids games, and another for hula hoop contests and sack races. More than one frisbee criss-crossed the scene, and a rousing game of football was off to another side. Teenagers circled the track chatting to friends and trying their best to avoid the pedestrian traffic congestion surrounding the face painting tent. (Again, free).
When the sun began its descent, the crowd began arranging chairs to face the field alongside the school. The fireworks show was set to begin! But first, the National Anthem. No one had to say, “please rise for the playing of our national anthem.” Everyone knew to stand. As soon as “buh-raaaaaave” faded from the speakers the show was on. And by on I mean “BamBamBamBamBam” on.
It was a a glorious assault on the senses. Vin Diesel isn’t this fast and furious. My four-year-old son was sitting in my lap immersed in the works of fire. Halfway through he turned to me and said, “This is so awesome dad. Thanks for bring me here.” That’s right, the fireworks show was so good children were moved to manners. That’s some mighty fine gunpower!
When the show – and finale – finished, there was applause, followed by the normal, “okay, let’s go home” mass migration to vehicles. All was orderly. All was calm. This … was High Country living.
I found out later the Blast is primarily the effort of a church, Bethel Baptist Church. It’s an outreach to the community. Kids are invited to register for Vacation Bible School, and a Bible lesson is offered amongst the many children’s activities. It’s a labor of love, one appreciated and now highly anticipated. And another grand reason I love calling the High Country home.