Working some fireworks magic

Longtime Sternwheel display organizer promises a night of excitement

This September will mark the 12th year that Dennis Blauser will enjoy the fireworks at the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival as the man behind the show.

Blauser took over responsibilities for the fireworks for the sternwheel committee after working with the shows’s namesake, Harry J. Robinson, for decades. Robinson passed away in 2011 after having directed the show for 30 years.

Blauser said this year’s display, at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 8, will as always be synchronized to music on WNUS 107.1 FM, and shouldn’t disappoint.

Question: What’s the theme going to be for this year’s fireworks display?

Answer: College football fight songs and Foo Fighters. We’re going to feature the fight songs from Marietta College, Ohio University, West Virginia University and Ohio State University, so we encourage everyone to wear their football jerseys to the fireworks. And since we’re in a fighting mood, we’re also going to do a Foo Fighters tribute.

Q: What’s your process for coming up with original themes for the show year after year?

A: I travel the United States constantly and I always keep my eyes open. I work with the fireworks company, Pyrotecnico, and we try to come up with new and unique ideas. We try to always make the show exciting.

Q: Do you have a favorite theme that you’ve done?

A: I don’t know about a favorite theme but I would say my fondest memory was the first year I did it. I put the theme from “Spongebob Squarepants” in the show and there was a helicopter flying above…Mark Mondo was in his helicopter and he could hear the crowd singing the theme song. Also, I did use the fireworks as an opportunity to ask my wife to marry me eight years ago. She said yes and we’re still happily married.

Q: How many people are on the fireworks committee?

A: It’s just me. But there are about 90 people on the sternwheel committee. I couldn’t do it without their support.

Q: How many years have you been on the committee?

A: I’ve been on the committee since the early ’80s. In the mid ’80s I started assisting Harry with the fireworks permitting.

Q: What made you first want to get involved with planning the festival?

A: There was a lady in town, Bonnie Johnson, who asked me to drive a limo with the captains when I had a weekend off in college. That was probably in ’81. I’ve been a part of it ever since.

Q: How much time and work goes into the fireworks planning?

A: I will start planning the next fireworks show the night of this one. From the permit standpoint, permits have to be secured through different agencies and that starts in January.

Q: Do you get to enjoy the fireworks or are you still in work mode at that moment?

A: I’m still in work mode. Safety is the utmost priority. But I do still get to enjoy it.

Q: Are you constantly thinking of new ideas?

A: I’ve got a little list of things I’d like to do. Some are expensive so we’re always looking for sponsors.

Q: Has there ever been an idea that’s too grand or too complicated and the fireworks company says they can’t do it?

A: If you have the imagination and the money, you can do just about anything. We have the imagination, so we’re always looking for the money.

Q: What else can people expect at this year’s show?

A: The fireworks will coordinate with the theme as far as music and from a color standpoint. Also, since it is Harry’s fireworks and I’m just taking care of it for him, he was a big band fan and so there will always be a big band element. I also try to bring in some country genres and something for the kids.

Q: Have you ever had any snags with the show?

A: We’ve never really had any snags. Weather is always a concern. We’ve had to adjust the time a little but, knock on wood, we’ve never had to postpone.

These days, they wrap the shells in plastic and aluminum foil to protect it, so all you need is a 15-minute window. We need 15 minutes with no rain so you can uncover everything and test it. That’s the key. So, that time of year you usually have brief rain storms come through. You just have to wait for a break.

Q: Has it been interesting for you to learn about the industry as you’ve been planning these shows?

A: Oh, yeah. The industry has progressed so far with the advent of computers and all the choreography. Our fireworks company is one of the leaders in special effects in the country, too. A couple of years ago we had laser lights…it’s great to see how things advance.

Kate York conducted this interview.

Dennis Blauser

¯ Age: 55.

¯ Residence: Marietta.

¯ Family: Wife, Brenda; Children Jordan, 26, Matthew, 21, and Halie, 19.

¯ Education: Marietta High School graduate; studied environmental economics at Wright State University.

¯ Occupation: Owner/CEO of Marietta Silos and USA Silo Services.

Source: Dennis Blauser.