Fireworks bring old, young to Detroit River

Jo Kroeker and Mark Hicks, The Detroit News

For Detroit native Troy Jordan, Monday night’s fireworks finale was better than others that he remembered.

“They try to outdo each other every year,” the 28-year-old said, satisfied with the show.  

Elsewhere, others signaled their approval of the area’s largest fireworks display, now in its 59th year. Uvina McKinney shouted: “It’s the finale! It’s the finale!” to her nieces and nephews, who were seeing the fireworks for the first time Monday night.

The event launched about 9:55 p.m. to the sounds of hit songs, including Motown’s Four Tops, with the Detroit River aglow with pyrotechnics streaking across the sky. Minutes before the launch, police said a 47-year-old woman was shot. Two people were in custody. Another shooting, blocks away downtown, injured two teens, police said.


Mike Fillion, 37, and his wife, Katy, brought their nephew Liam Maloney. They were playing a card game on a Detroit Red Wings card table to pass the time before the fireworks began.

Last year, the family went to Belle Isle, but this year they chose the blue-and-white lit trees at Hart Plaza because of the view.

The Fillions said they have attended the fireworks since they were kids in the early eighties, and have brought Liam, 12, who visits from Arizona, for the last seven.

“It’s definitely the biggest and best,” Katy Fillion, 38, said. “We love city, we are down here a lot. It’s fun getting to know people around us.”

The couple agreed that the best part of the show is the people of Detroit, but both also appreciate the presence of law enforcement.

“The law-enforcement being here is awesome,” Mike Fillion said.

Other fans like Vincent and Holly Murry, who estimate they have been coming to the show for 30 years, knew exactly how to prepare for the event.

Vincent Murry, 54, said they got started at 6 a.m. “That’s how you get ready,” he said. “You get the things you want, the things you don’t think you want, you get everyone by the car by 11:30 or 12.”

His wife Holly, 53, said they brought everything but the kitchen sink: a DVD player, a tent, a table, sandwiches. They wanted to bring a grill for grilled cheese sandwiches and hot dogs, but those are prohibited. Also in tow: a Bluetooth speaker, a tablet, blankets and emergency ponchos.

Holly Murry said they had plotted many ways to get to their favorite spot -- in front of the barge from which the fireworks are deployed. This year, however, crowds could only enter through one spot. The family still got their spot, though, and by 6 p.m. were on a fourth game of dominoes.

“When I was young, we used to get as far as we could on the freeway, then we’d park and sit on the station wagon and watch the fireworks from there,” Holly Murry said.

Vincent Murry called the display “well done this year. “No pushing and shoving.”

It used to be like that though, Holly recalled. Von, their son, now 25 and with them Monday, would have to stay on Vincent’s shoulders to keep him safe from crowds.

Vincent Murry had foot surgery Friday, but instead of putting a wrinkle in the plan to see fireworks, he said it motivated him.

“Thank God he felt good enough to come,” Holly Murry said.

Reining over fun is a cornerstone for Ziam Penn, a street performer for five years who has stood stock still at the Ford Fireworks show for the last three. Blinged out in blue and silver sequins, with American flag sunglasses and hair, he stands so still that kids shriek at the slightest movement. Then his joints move, as if he’s a well-oiled robot.

Penn said Detroit is just catching on to street performance, so he doesn’t just perform, but he educates locals about the act. “If you feed art, art will feed you,” he said. “It doesn’t take a lot.”

It was a good day Monday, he said. “I love the people and I learn something every day about the human condition, about our challenges and our fears.”

Elsewhere, a crowd formed around Learning Express, a band that took the stage next to the statue of the Cadillac explorer in Hart Plaza. The band played jazz-infused hip-hop tracks and invited some in the crowd to join the performance, whether adults singing the words or kids dancing wildly.

This is the first time the band has played for the fireworks, bassist Darrell Redcampbell said, but members have been together for more than 10 years. The band primarily goes to after school programs and converts difficult lessons, like the scientific method or the 5+1 essay method or the planetary system, into songs. A long-time fireworks goer, Redcampbell flew in from New York just for this show. “We are always traveling, making noise, that’s what we do,” he said. “Anywhere there are students.”