PORT TOWNSEND — The Old School 4th of July celebration will forego the public fireworks show this year in favor of a laser display and the traditional community events at Fort Worden.
Thursday’s celebration at Fort Worden Commons at 200 Battery Way will start at 4 p.m. and culminate with the laser show beginning at 10:20 p.m.
The event’s entry fee is a $5 suggested donation, but no one will be turned away for lack of ability to pay, said event coordinator Daniel Milholland.
The decision to have a laser show was not because of burn restrictions or worries about fire, he said. It was due to lack of early sponsorship.
“We are not presenting a public display of fireworks. Instead, we are doing more live entertainment, including fire spinning and juggling, and then all culminating in an epic laser show,” Milholland said.
“The cost of fireworks has gone up, and we also didn’t have enough early big sponsors and the City of Port Townsend — although they funded fireworks last year — wasn’t able to contribute financially this year. So we just basically made ends meet, and we pursued this other vision, which was for the laser show.”
The laser alternative was significantly less expensive than fireworks and also freed up money to go toward local organizations, Milholland said.
The show is being put on by Rick Hale, who owns and operates Slick Lasers of Seattle. It hasn’t been decided if the laser show will become a permanent part of the event.
“It could become an annual tradition,” Milholland said. “We are just gonna try it out on the community … and see what people think, and if people really want fireworks again, then we’re going to have to get financial support from the community in future years.”
The event will celebrate several traditions.
“This is the fourth annual celebration of the Old School 4th,” Milholland said. “We have bunch of traditions that we’ve been cultivating over the years.”
He said his company, Thunderbull Productions, founded the event in partnership with the Chamber of Jefferson County and now works with the Fort Worden Public Development Authority.
“I’ve been the primary event producer and coordinator,” he said.
Olympic Games will begin at 7 p.m. The games include “a competitive tug of war, with a $1,000 grand prize. It costs $100 to enter a team.”
Participants can register online at https://thunderbullproductions.com/4th-of-july.html or “just show up at 11 a.m. on the day of to weigh their teams.”
The competition has a strict weight limit for each team.
“It’s 1,500 pounds per team,” Milholland said. “So as many as you can fit on a 1,500-pound team, and we’ll have a weigh-in at 11 a.m. on July Fourth.”
“You can just bring your team right then and there for the weigh-in, and if not everyone can make it to the weigh-in, you can’t weigh additional members once the event has started.”
The tug of war is not the only competition planned.
“The other thing we have is a watermelon-eating contest — which has become a classic of the Old School Fourth — and that’s a $5 entry fee,” Milholland said.
“And then we have a walnut sack race. There’s also mini-golf and free root beet floats for 1,000 people.”
There’s also non-competitive things for people to enjoy, like live music throughout the entire event, face painting and an impromptu classic car show.
“There are going to be henna artists, face painting … it’s a big community, family-friendly celebration,” Milholland said.
“There is a VIP parking for classic cars, so anyone with a classic car can park right at the entrance for the event, and that sort of becomes like a car show, so as people arrive there’s a whole stream of classic cars,” Milholland said.
A large number of local food vendors are anticipated as well as a beer, wine and cider garden that will be serving locally made beverages.
“The biggest part that makes this event old-school is that it’s all about celebrating community,” Milholland said.
“And having a really big community celebration, essentially, that’s more than lasers verses fireworks or any particular tradition,” he added.
Milholland said he is pleased by the cross-section of people the celebration draws.
“We get people of all ages,” he said. “All different circles of communities come from all over the county and from neighboring communities to come celebrate together.”
To celebrate community, Milholland said photographer David Conklin will take a large group shot of all the attendees who want to be in it, and people will be able to download the photo after the event at https://thunderbullproductions.com/4th-of-july.html.
Here is the schedule:
• 4 p.m. — S’Klallam drummers, singers.
• 4:30 p.m. — The Shed Boys.
• 5 p.m. — Free root beer floats.
• 5:30 p.m. — Maria Powell, winner of the 2019 Kiwanis Stars of Tomorrow contest.
• 6 p.m. — PT Summer Band
• 7 p.m. — Olympic Games, including tug of war, walnut sack race, watermelon-eating contest and a Community Portrait.
• 8 p.m. — The Unexpected Brass Band.
• 8:30 p.m. — Caela Bailey & General Mojo’s Seattle Psychedelic Circus.
• 10 p.m. — NANDA acrobaticalists.
• 10:20 p.m. — Laser light show.
Headline sponsors of the celebration are the city of Port Townsend, the Friends of Fort Worden, the Seattle Theater Group and Wilder Auto, according to Thunderbull’s website at https://thunderbullproductions.com/4th-of-july.html.
The goal of this event is not to raise money, Milholland said.
“We typically break even on this event from business sponsors and personal donations,” he said.
“And that includes paying musicians, logistics, porta-potties, event coordination, some marketing costs. It’s a very grassroots production, and there are a lot of people who really contribute. Some performers donate their time, even Good Man Sanitation — who is doing the sani-cans — they are giving us basically $1,000 off.”
“We’re putting on more like a $100,000 production for $30,000 because we get so much in-kind support and generosity.”
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at [email protected].