2019 Freedom Over Texas fireworks show
Photo: Freedom Over Texas / DONNA CARSON
As such storied traditions as the Bellaire parade and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion’s Star-Spangled Salute were canceled due to health concerns this year, other patriotic celebrations have been adapted to allow families to celebrate in a uniquely 2020 way.
From an indoor setting with no audience, members of the Houston Symphony will be physically-distanced from one another on stage for the Shell Freedom Over Texas celebration.
At the televised event, they’ll perform live alongside big-name performers before a viewing of downtown’s live fireworks display. This year, the streets around Eleanor Tinsley Park will be blocked to prevent viewers from gathering.
For the music-and-fireworks performance on ABC13, Texas-born headliner Pat Green will perform a live set with the symphony, along with Houston performers Bun B, Trae Tha Truth, Mariachi Imperial De America, and the siblings that make up Los Luzeros De Rioverde.
“These amazing artists said, ‘I want to come and be a part of this very special thing’,” says Susan Christian, director of the mayor’s office of special events.
This year’s celebration is “a salute to America’s birthday but, just as important I think, it’s also a salute to the impact that events have in our lives,” she continues. “Civic events are very important, and Houston is an event town.”
The live music elements during the at-home celebration are designed to “give people that freshness that they haven’t been able to see for a while,” Christian says, referencing months of canceled gatherings.
Freedom Over Texas also features live, virtual performances by Lyle Lovett and La Mafia, both backed by the symphony, in addition to taped sets from Josh Turner, Sara Evans and Hunter Hayes.
Coordinating the performances of several acts by way of remote meetings was “a humongous effort,” Christian says, but the end result will be “something uniquely Houston for Houstonians.”
She encourages those in proximity to Eleanor Tinsley Park who have a visual of the fireworks from their cars, backyards and balconies to follow guidelines around distancing and masking.
During Freedom Over Texas, viewers will have text-to-give opportunities for two local beneficiaries.
One fundraising campaign, helmed by the city, aims to ease the digital divide for local children, an ongoing need that Chrstian says became more apparent during school closures.
The other non-profit is the Houston Food Bank.
“They’ve really been heroes to a lot of people in need” during the pandemic, says Christian. “They fill such a huge gap for us here as a community.”
When: 6:30 – 10 p.m. July 4; Fireworks show, presented by Reliant, at 9:35 p.m.; freedomovertexas.org
Turning it up in Tomball
This year, the City of Tomball’s annual fireworks show will take place as a drive-in-theater-inspired community tailgate.
The annual street festival has been canceled and, for the traditional fireworks show, families are encouraged to mask up and practice social distancing when they park their cars in lots surrounding the intersection of FM 2920 West and State Highway 249. Options include Lowe’s, Target and H-E-B.
Organizers have made use of the city’s low-power FM radio station, typically reserved for emergency announcements, so attendees can hear a special 90-minute music show from their cars.
“People can put their chairs in the back of the pick-up truck and bring a picnic,” says Mike Baxter, the city’s director of marketing and tourism.
The 90-minute set on KTTF/95.3 FM blends rock, classic country, messages from the mayor, safety reminders and, for the 30-minute fireworks show, patriotic tunes.
“It’s an atmosphere, it’s environment,” Baxter says of the traditional music that complements the aerial show.
When: Fireworks at 9:30 p.m, July 4.; tomballtx.gov
DIY in Sugar Land
Sugar Land’s annual Red White and Boom event is entirely virtually this year.
Using social media, the city put out the call for residents to record short videos reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Staff have spliced submissions together, and the finished product will kick off a community-wide online viewing party.
Briana Williams says event organizers were pleased with the number of residents “showcasing pride” by taking part in the video campaign.
Submissions came from individuals, families, Boy Scouts troops, schools and other groups, she says.
“It’s not the traditional way we would celebrate, but we still wanted something for the community to enjoy,” Williams says.
The pre-recorded show will feature a patriotic performance from a local musician and a message from the mayor before a video recording of a previous year’s fireworks spectacular.
To add to at-home festivities, the city sold patriotic party packs to residents. Inside are DIY decorations, a voucher for a Sugar Land Skeeters game, a recipe and all the ingredients for festive cupcakes from H-E-B, and promotional items from Sugar Land-based small businesses.
8 p.m. July 4; sugarlandtx.gov
In West University, the traditional family parade was scrapped . In its place, residents are invited to four of the neighborhood’s parks to collect 4th of July swag that might include beads, mini flags and noise makers.
“People can walk and bike and go out and get some fresh air… to greet us out there,” says West U’s Brittany Bakes.
Bakes imagines some families will use the opportunity to decorate their bikes and strollers in red, white and blues as they normally do for the parade.
When: 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.; westutx.gov
As part of “Kidpendence Week” at the Children’s Museum Houston, the Epic Adventure Scavenger Hunt will feature special patriotic clues through Sunday.
Museum goers can participate in the new challenge, designed to keep families socially-distanced by way of a one-way path, by attempting to solve five clues to earn a gold coin and access to the Adventure Society.
From home, virtual Kidpendence Week opportunities include 3-D patriotic art-making; cmhouston.org
And Bayou Bend, a property of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is honoring the 4th of July with a series of videos families can watch on their own schedule.
One video follows a horse-riding historical interpreter dressed as George Washington clomping through the property, pausing to read the Declaration of Independence from a scroll. Another video demos the steps for a family-friendly DIY watercolor fireworks project. mfah.org
Allison Bagley is a Houston-based writer.