MURRAY — Geoff Dixon has been creating fireworks shows for 26 years.
The fact that he is involved with such a business probably should not be a surprise when one considers that his birthday is on the one day Americans reserve for either watching displays, or creating their own in backyards — July 4. So, along with older son Court and twin siblings Ryann and Grayson, he spent July 4 this year in Murray doing what just comes naturally.
“The joke around my family is I was 13 before I realized all of this wasn’t for me,” he said as he and his children, the labor behind the High Tech Special Effects firm from Memphis, Tennessee, prepared the components Thursday afternoon for that evening’s Briggs & Stratton/Murray Bank Fireworks Extravaganza from the Bee Creek soccer complex in Murray.
“It is interesting that my brother and I got to see the big huge show they have at Disney World (Orlando, Florida) every year, and it just happened to be on my 13th birthday. I was kind of hooked after that.”
Now, Geoff is at the center of a company that handles pyrotechnics for some of the most well-known events in the country. On High Tech’s list of events it has worked are NASCAR races at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina (home of the Coca-Cola 600, as well as NASCAR’s All-Star Weekend), as well as a world tour for country music legend Garth Brooks. It also has found its way into television, providing the explosions in one episode of the popular “Duck Dynasty” series.
Murray State basketball fans may also get to know High Tech’s work very soon. Many will be heading to games of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, now with former Racers star Ja Morant; High Tech handles indoor pyro features for the Grizzlies’ home games.
Geoff reported Thursday that Memphis, in general, is very excited about Morant being a Grizzly.
There is another entertainment icon with whom High Tech has worked, none other than the legendary rock group, KISS, known for its over-the-top concert performances.
“And we’re scheduled to do one for them later this fall,” Geoff said, explaining that he shares something in common with KISS founders Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, and it is felt when the shells begin launching. “OK, for (Thursday night) and for the 15 minutes this show is going on I’m a rock star. I mean, what else do you need to know?
“Now, I can’t see anybody, but you know that there’s 8,000 to 10,000 people surrounding me, but it’s dark and I can’t see them. But when you hear that roar from those people, I dig it. I know Gene and Paul dig it.
“That’s what you live for! I think that, in golf, it’s called your come-back-tomorrow shot? Yes, things can be slow and it can be tough at times. We’re sitting here right now, as a matter of fact, wondering if it’s going to get tougher (with storms in the area Thursday afternoon). But when it goes right, it’s awesome.”
That feeling has now spread to his children, who are alongside to help connect the endless amount of yellow wires that power the electronic system that allows the show to thrill so many audiences annually. Court has been with his father for nine years, while the others have traveled to shows since they were both about 12.
Now they are earning more responsibilities, like Grayson, who was a few days removed from handling the controls during a show for the first time.
“I was at the controls and pushing all of the buttons,” Grayson said of the show in the Memphis suburb of Oakland. “At first, I was really nervous, but I’ve been doing (the prep work) and watching (Geoff) do it so long that he just kind of had to walk me through it. By the time we got up to the show, I was feeling pretty confident. “
Ryann remembered her first time traveling with Geoff to a show that was supposed to be anything but a positive experience.
“I’d gotten in trouble for something and this was supposed to be my punishment,” said said. “But it blew my mind. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness!’ Before that, sparklers was all we had. Now I was like, ‘Wow! There’s so much more out there!’
“Dad said, ‘That’s great. Now I’ve got to punish you some other way.’ It was so much fun, and to realize that he’s met so many famous people through this, (pop singers) Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and others. I can’t believe it.”
Court said he has been with Geoff on shows for nine years.
“This was my first summer job. I love it. It’s so much more interesting than other things,” Court said. “I loved to tell my friends, back when I was younger, about what I got to do over the summer, compared to what they did. I got to blow stuff up.”
Geoff said it is a little more complicated than that.
“You can ask (the children); it is always about safety first with us,” he said recalling an accident by another fireworks firm in which a 4- or 5-inch shell was thrust into the audience instead of being propelled skyward. “They failed to secure the racks properly and the stuff turned over and that went right into the crowd.
“Everything we do is to keep everyone safe and to provide the best show we can.”
Thursday’s show included a wide assortment of explosives, from 3- to 8-inch shells with the largest and brightest parts of the display reaching about 450 feet. That included such designs as smiling faces, hearts, bowties, rings and Geoff’s favorite, the brocade that cascades with bright streams after the initial explosion.
And Geoff said the reception in Murray to what he and his family are doing makes stops in the city quite anticipated.
“More often than not, when we do these shows, we’re in the middle of a field, off on our own, and nobody comes to see us. This is one of those great gigs we have where everybody comes to talk to us and we love that,” he said, noting how after they arrived Thursday afternoon to begin setup for the show, they were quickly met by Freedom Fest representatives. “We had the sponsors (Briggs and TMB) here and the ladies from (the Murray Convention and Visitors Bureau) and others stop by and everybody was so excited. That’s nice.
“We’ve come up here and done fireworks for Murray State at times (usually after a football game) and it’s the same thing. ‘Is is OK to come say hello?’ or ‘Can we come say thank you for coming to do this?’ Gosh! We do have a great time when we come here.”
Ryann said she feels that as well.
“Last year was my first time here and we had people giving us food and snacks and it was soooooo nice,” she said. “I enjoy coming here a lot. (Wednesday night), I started getting real excited about coming here because I remembered what it had been like.”