35th annual Stadium of Fire closes Provo Freedom Festival

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Provo’s Fourth of July celebration ended Saturday with a performance by 15-time platinum band Journey and the largest fireworks display in Stadium of Fire history.

More than 40,000 spectators attended the event, and it was broadcast to more than 1 million military men and women in more than 100 countries.

America’s Freedom Festival at Provo opened on Thursday, July 2, with Balloon Fest, featuring approximately 25 hot air balloons. Balloon Fest this year experienced misfortune, as the Bank of American Fork piggy bank balloon briefly caught fire and crashed on Thursday, and the balloons were unable to fly on Saturday due to bad weather.

Friday’s featured event was a demonstration by Gail Halvorsen, the 94-year-old WWII pilot known as the “Candy Bomber.” Halvorsen spoke at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services event at Scera Park in Orem earlier in the day and, at 4 p.m., flew over the park three times before dropping 1,000 candy bars to the children waiting expectantly below.

Freedom Festival events took place nearly all day on Saturday. The final hot air balloon show was followed by the Grand Parade, which is “the largest parade of its kind in Utah,” according to the Freedom Festival website. Spectators camped out along the parade route in style Friday night, many bringing projectors, televisions and video game consoles to pass the time. The parade itself included high school marching bands, Provo city royalty and a large group of Star Wars villains carrying state flags.

(Maddi Dayton)

The Star Wars enthusiasts are members of the Utah chapter of the 501st Legion, a volunteer organization dedicated to generating interest in Star Wars and giving fans a chance to express their passion. Members dressing up as Boba Fett or Stormtroopers made appearances at various Freedom Festival events throughout the day.

The culmination of the Provo Freedom Fest is always the Stadium of Fire, a massive concert and fireworks show that takes place in LaVell Edwards Stadium every 4th of July. Television personality, former marine and motivational speaker Montel Williams hosted, with best-selling band Journey taking the stage as the main performer.

The 2015 production of Stadium of Fire focused on military history, marking the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. The Stadium of Fire dancers and singers performed a USO-style tribute to the many women who have served in the U.S. armed forces, and the stage was decorated like an army base.

Williams quickly gained the approval of the many Utahns in the audience by extolling the state’s natural beauty and proudly proclaiming, “I can see why this is the place.”

The Stadium of Fire singers were joined in the national anthem by Utah rising artist Gentri, and the crowd was treated to flyovers by WWII-era planes and Utah national guard helicopters.

Williams used his role as host to raise awareness for the American soldiers held as prisoners of war around the world, particularly in Iraq. In a tear-choked voice, Williams spoke of the plight of POWs and asked audience members to use social media to bring attention to the issue.

Disney Channel star Olivia Holt took the stage next, performing several songs from her upcoming debut album. Younger members of the audience were excited to see someone from their generation perform, as opposed to a band that saw its greatest success during the 1970s and 1980s.

“That’s Olivia Holt! I would recognize her anywhere!” 12-year-old Stadium of Fire attendee Savannah Roscher said when Holt made her first appearance during the USO number. “I know all of her songs. I didn’t know she was going to be here!”

Holt was followed by EepyBird, a scientist duo dedicated to helping kids create even bigger messes using ordinary objects, according to Williams. Dressed in lab coats and goggles, Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz entertained the crowd by dropping 1,000 Mentos into 300 Diet Coke bottles — “Caffeine-free,” Williams assured.

The crowd roared as Journey appeared, opening with its hit song “Separate Ways.” The current drummer, Deen Castronovo, is facing a legal investigation and so was replaced by Omar Hakim for the concert. The guitarist, Neal Schon, and bassist, Ross Valory, are the only original members of the band still playing. Lead singer Arnel Pineda joined the group in 2007.

Journey performed some of its most popular songs, including “Any Way You Want It,” “Lights” and “Faithfully”  and gave a tribute to both America and classic rock ‘n’ roll by performing “The Star-Spangled Banner” Jimi Hendrix-style on the electric guitar. The band closed with one of its most popular songs, “Don’t Stop Believin’.” The audience showed support by singing along to the entire song.

Fireworks following the concert
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Photos by Ari Davis

Williams returned to the stage to introduce the fireworks show. Referencing the impact Journey and other rock bands have had on the history of the country, Williams revealed that the theme of this year’s show would be “rock and roll through the ages.” The fireworks show was perfectly choreographed to match the rock music chosen to accompany it and featured fun additions like heart-shaped explosions during the song by the band Heart, and spinning rockets during the song “Crazy Horses.”

After the rock setlist ended, the fireworks continued as the Stadium of Fire singers, accompanied by Gentri, closed the concert with several patriotic songs, including “America the Beautiful.”

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