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‘We’re back’: July 4 fireworks show to return to Rose Bowl stadium after last year’s dark skies

Fireworks display
Willie Zamora waves a flag as he watches the Rose Bowl fireworks show in Pasadena.
(Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times)

Fourth of July isn’t the same without a live fireworks show’s colorful bursts and glittery fizzles — and the crowd’s dazzled “oohs” and “ahhs.” It’s a tradition about as American as apple pie.

Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered large venues where professional fireworks shows are often held. Pasadena’s historic Rose Bowl stadium pivoted its long-standing annual AmericaFest to online and ditched the pyrotechnics.

But this year the stadium is bringing back the show, now in its 95th year, and at least some of the crowd. The family-friendly event is set to literally “pop off” 19 days after California’s economy is set to largely reopen on June 15.

Pasadena Councilmember Steve Madison, who represents the area where the stadium is located, announced the show’s return Monday night at the tail end of a City Council meeting.

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“This will be an exciting event, not just because of Independence Day, and what that means to all of us but also [it’s] a bit of a coming out for the Rose Bowl, to welcome that back to the city,” said Madison, who is a member of the Rose Bowl Operating Co. board, which manages the stadium for the city.

The announcement is a sign of a tentative return to normality for Southern California after 15 months of holidays, birthdays and other celebrations being canceled or drastically reimagined to conform to pandemic safety guidelines. After a deadly fall and winter surge, California’s coronavirus cases numbers — and related hospitalizations and deaths — have plummeted. The state now has one of the lowest positivity rates in the country.

But the news also arrives as the Rose Bowl, turning 100 next year, faces financial struggles compounded by the pandemic. With crowds labeled a public health hazard, college football — one of the biggest draws for the stadium — has been off the table for months.

The stadium, which was saddled with debt before the pandemic, is facing a $30 million deficit over the next five years, according to Darryl Dunn, CEO and General Manager of the Rose Bowl Operating Co.

This year, the company has budgeted about $350,000 for AmericaFest, a price tag ultimately footed by the city, Dunn said.

Pasadena Councilmember John Kennedy highlighted the city’s significant financial responsibility at Monday’s council meeting.

Addressing the mayor, Kennedy said, “All of us are seeking ways to give a sense of normalcy to all of this, and one way to do that is to have the event, but we also need to be cognizant of what is the approximate amount we believe the General Fund will have to kick in to make it happen.”

Despite the financial challenges, Dunn said that, overall, city officials were on board. Earlier in May, he said he met with city leadership and asked if they wanted to “celebrate that, as a community, we’re back. And the answer was yes.”

Beginning in the early afternoon on July 4, a free event will be held outside the stadium on the lawn area. A ticketed event will be held inside the stadium with live entertainment and activities.

The fireworks show will begin about 9 p.m.

“If you’re inside the stadium, you enjoy it the most,” said Dunn, noting that it’s attached to music and a patriotic story.

More details are still being hammered out, such as the capacity limit and coronavirus-related restrictions.


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