DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Feasting — without the boom

THE NERVE OF this guy, bringing lasers instead of fireworks for Port Townsend’s Old School 4th of July.

I mean that in a positive way. Danny Milholland, whose Thunderbull Productions puts on the event, has the gumption to try something different in front of several thousand people.

A couple of months ago, Milholland began to realize the sponsorship wasn’t there for the usual $10,000 pyrotechnic shoot-off over Fort Worden State Park; the future wasn’t looking too bright.

Around the same time, Milholland had been talking with Rick Hale, big shot in the wide world of laser display, and Jeremiah Green, drummer with the indie-rock band Modest Mouse and a Port Townsender.

Turns out a 10- to 15-minute laser show here would run $5,500 for all the light and color and none of the thump and boom.

They’re going for it.

A laser display with Green’s recorded soundtrack will arrive above the parade grounds come 10:20 p.m. Thursday — and who knows how it will go over?

Milholland is hearing a range of responses.

Some are delighted with the lack of noise, while others taunt him about calling his event “old school.”

Amidst it all, he’s for questioning the old traditions, some of which aren’t so healthy for humans, other animals and the planet.

Tomoki Sage, artistic director of Nanda, Port Townsend’s “acrobaticalist” ensemble, calls Milholland a visionary when it comes to orchestrating community events.

He admitted, though, being worried about the laser thing.

“I’ve never been super-into fireworks, but I know other people are,” said Sage.

He’ll have a front-row seat for their reaction.

Nanda, plus guest artist Rachel Novak, will leap onto the stage for a performance immediately preceding the laser show.

Sage has imagined the worst-case scenario: being booed off as the crowd realizes there will be no rockets’ red glare.

Yet like Milholland — Nanda’s longtime manager — Sage has guts.

In Nanda’s show, he and his compatriots will throw multiple flaming torches into the air and catch them.

He describes this part of the act as “a big ball of fire whipping toward your face.”

So you want fire on July 4?

You got it — along with the feasting Milholland believes is the point.

The Old School 4th is a feast of live music, watermelon, root beer floats and people you haven’t seen in a while.

The party starts at 4 p.m. Thursday and includes five musical acts, games and a “community portrait” photo of the crowd.

More money went to the daytime entertainment instead of the fireworks, Milholland said; the event bill totals around $27,000.

The crew asks for a $5 donation, but they’re not about to turn anyone away for lack of cash.

Like so many small-town celebrations, the Old School 4th happens thanks to big generosity from sponsors: local businesses, nonprofit groups and the host city itself.

It’s impressive to behold.

Milholland, born and raised in Port Townsend, is, as he says, “slammed” this summer.

After orchestrating the May 18 Cake Picnic — 2,500 free slices of cake enjoyed at Pope Marine Park — Thunderbull Productions does the All-County Picnic at H.J. Carroll Park in Chimacum on Aug. 18, is involved with the THING festival at Fort Worden Aug. 24-25, and will present another new event, Parkways.

This is a community walkabout, a healthful roam around town, coming up July 21 in Port Townsend.

It coincides nicely with the opening just last Saturday of the Chetzemoka Trail, which beckons us to important spots around this place its S’Klallam citizens named qatay.

As for the July 4 event — changes and all — the producer hopes for harmony.

“There’s no older tradition,” said Milholland, “than people gathering for celebration.”


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be July 17.

Reach her at [email protected]

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