For an artist of pyrotechnics, night sky is a canvas

As the fleur-de-lis descends the 25-foot pole atop Jax Brewery on New Year’s Eve, a barrage of 1,800 fireworks will erupt, bringing the French Quarter and beyond to a standstill as all eyes turn to the sky.

“I cannot sing and I cannot dance, but I can entertain with fireworks,” said David Spear, president for AFX Pro, a New Orleans special events production company.

Positioned on the Decatur Street stage at Jackson Square, Spear will count down to midnight on the radio with his crew as they ready themselves.

“Right on the stroke of midnight you have to hit them hard, right then and there, and then keep them rocking for 10 minutes,” Spear said.

Bursts of colors synchronized to a medley of New Orleans-inspired music will spray across the Mississippi River’s midnight sky, marking the beginning of the new year.

Spear’s crew will launch fireworks of different shapes and patterns downriver and upriver at various heights, ranging from 200 feet to 1,000 feet, from tubes on the barges.

The mesmerizing visual effects will be synchronized to a soundtrack played live on WLMG-FM 101.9” WWL-AM 870 and WWL-FM 105.3, and WWL.com.

“It is highly driven and highly inspired by the music, and it is my job to make that reflect on the visual look,” Spear said.

At his computer, Spear choreographs the fireworks to the soundtrack he and the Crescent City Countdown Club put together, which includes the fight songs of the two teams in the Sugar Bowl, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Oklahoma Sooners.

“We will go with the flow of the music: If it’s a slower song, the pacing of the fireworks will slow down, but where the pace increases, we’ll put more fireworks up in the air,” Spear said.

Different firework effects play a pivotal role in the pacing, he said. Hard break, instant flow or spherical patterns can last for two to three seconds; a weeping willow shell, which bursts and gradually cascades back down to the river, will last for eight to 10 seconds.

A simple effect that gets the crowd fired up is the splash of the Sugar Bowl team’s colors during their fight songs.

“There will be so many people there from Alabama and Oklahoma, and when their particular fight song plays, the eruption of the crowd from their particular fans is just a lot of fun,” Spear said.

Spear has been playing with pyrotechnics for more than 30 years.

As a sales representative for a barge company during the 1984 world’s fair in New Orleans, Spear was captivated by the firework display that lit up the sky, night after night, for six months. The following year, Spear quit his sales rep job and started the first professional fireworks company in the Gulf South.

“It is a cool job, but it’s not an easy job,” Spear said.

Once the soundtrack and firework presentations are complete, the tedious aspect of the job begins: setting up the bracing, bracketing, tubes, electronics and the computer firing systems.

“All the work is done in advance and stored on the computer, so when the crew is out on the barge, they are ready to hit the ‘go’ button,” Spear said.

The night sky becomes Spear’s canvas for the next 10 minutes, with the grand finale a bombardment of loud shells.

There’s “the vibration of the noise bouncing off of the buildings downtown — boom, boom, boom, boom, boom — and then the crowd ruptures into applause, and they’re sounding their whistle and horns,” Spear said.

“That’s what motivates me to do it, the reaction of the crowd.”