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Thunder Over Louisville Reimagined With 5 Pop-Up Shows

Thunder Over Louisville is expected to draw 725,000 attendees in 2020.
Kentucky Derby Festival
Thunder Over Louisville is expected to draw 725,000 attendees in 2020.

Louisville and Southern Indiana residents may be able to watch Thunder Over Louisville from their backyards this year, depending on where they live. 

Kentucky Derby Festival organizers said show producers will set off fireworks from five “undisclosed pop-up locations” throughout the community for the event’s return on April 17.

“You'll be able to step outside and see, and feel, and hear it just as if you were on the waterfront, but it's going to be from a safe and undisclosed location,” Kentucky Derby Festival CEO Matt Gibson said during a Thursday press conference.

Fans of the bombastic display will also be able to watch on WHAS11, and listen to the soundtrack on WVEZ 106.9 FM. 

Organizers said the reimagining of the show, themed “Illuminating Our Community,” will allow the event to return safely for its 32nd year, even while the coronavirus pandemic continues. The Kentucky Derby Festival canceled the show in 2020 over concerns that bringing more than 500,000 people to the waterfront would exacerbate the outbreak.

Gibson said the undisclosed locations will be spread throughout the area, with setups in Louisville’s north, south, and east and west, as well as Southern Indiana.

The show will last 18 minutes, beginning at 9:30 p.m., with the displays designed to “interact” with one another. 

“They will respond to each other, they will often fire simultaneously, they'll fire one at a time,” Gibson explained.

Meanwhile, WVEZ 106.9 FM will carry the musical soundtrack, which Thunder producer Wayne Hettinger called “the most lyrical soundtrack that we've ever done.”

“You'll see our constant tie-in with uniting and bringing the community together,” Hettinger said.

The air show is returning as well, though Gibson said it won’t be as large, or long, as past years. 

“While it's a shorter air show, it's packed with some awesome aircraft,” he said. A Boeing 767 will fly, along with U.S. Army helicopters, the Tuskegee Airmen planes, and other aircraft.

Keeping the secret locations free from spectators is key to making the show work, according to Gibson. 

“One of the most important messages is, in order for us to be able to do a show like this safely, in a very unique way, is that even if folks learn about these locations, that it is not safe, that it's not responsible to gather,” he said.

He warned that gatherings at the production locations would “jeopardize our ability to even fire.”

Instead, Gibson and Thunder's corporate sponsors are encouraging fans to watch on WHAS11 or from their homes if they are lucky enough to have a view.

The Kentucky Derby Festival and Papa John’s, one of is corporate sponsors, are recommending Thunder watch parties. Gibson said those holding watch parties should follow CDC guidelines around masking, social distancing and keeping group sizes small.

Louisville Tourism estimates the last Thunder Over Louisville in 2019 drew 725,000 people and generated $16.3 million in economic impact for the city.

This story has been updated to clarify that Papa John's is the only corporate sponsor recommending Thunder watch parties.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.