Raleigh's The 'Works street festival offers Fourth of July fireworks and more

CorrespondentJuly 3, 2014 

  • The ’Works

    Here are a few highlights of The ’Works. For a full schedule of events, visit raleighconvention.com/works. Everything is free.

    Music: Music starts on the City Plaza Stage at noon, on the Morgan Street Stage at 1 and at Red Hat Amphitheater at 5:30. Shows are slated through 11 p.m., with breaks for fireworks.

    Hot dog eating contest: 2 p.m., 7 p.m.

    Ice cream eating contest: 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m.

    Watermelon seed-spitting contest: 3 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 6 p.m., 7:30 p.m.

    Gouge wrestling: 1:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 8 p.m.

In 2012, Raleigh moved its fireworks away from the State Fairgrounds to downtown. Friday, The ’Works, the street festival centered around the pyrotechnics display, enters its third year. There will be eating contests, 19 live bands, outdoor professional wrestling and – of course – the rockets’ red glare.

But those who have attended the previous two fireworks displays downtown will attest that the affairs didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. In 2012, tall buildings obscured much of the display, frustrating revelers expecting a clear view. Last year, the plan was to have two displays – one fired from the Duke Energy Center and a larger one, better viewed from Red Hat Amphitheatre, immediately following. Yet traffic snarls and false starts plagued that one, leaving organizers still finding their footing in year three.

“There was too much movement. It was hard to control the flow of people and traffic and cars,” says Red Hat Amphitheatre’s Taylor Traversari, festival producer for The ‘Works. “The one change that we’re doing is we’re going to shoot these fireworks simultaneously.”

O say can you see

The fireworks will be launched from the same spots as in 2013, but will both start at 9:30 p.m. Because of the surrounding buildings, the Duke Energy Center fireworks have a 300-foot ceiling. The Red Hat area fireworks can reach twice that height.

The displays won’t be mutually visible, though, so attendees will have to choose one or the other.

“The best visibility for the Duke Energy Center ones is straight down Fayetteville Street,” Traversari says. “We don’t recommend being anywhere but there.”

And though the Red Hat fireworks can get significantly larger, the Raleigh Convention Center and other buildings block the view from within downtown. Still, Traversari hopes starting the fireworks simultaneously will eliminate last year’s logistical snags.

Additionally, there will be a VIP viewing area at the foot of the Bank of America Building on Fayetteville Street – one that guarantees a good view for participants with programs stamped at multiple events.

“If you’ve come and experienced everything we’ve offered during the day, and you’ve done everything at the festival, we let you into the VIP area,” Traversari says.

Spend the day

The ’Works is an all-day affair – running from noon until 11 p.m. – with events throughout. There’s a kids’ area with bounce houses, carnival games and a dunk tank; there are food vendors, beer tastings, art vendors and bands for hours. Additionally, North Carolina-based King BMX brings X Games-style stunt biking to Davie Street and GOUGE Wrestling returns for its third year.

“They’re kind of a staple of ours at this festival,” Traversari says of GOUGE. Another staple is the slate of eating contests, which draw everyone from those signing up on a whim to competitive eating champions – contestants who soak hot dog buns in water, Traversari says, so they dissolve and go down quicker. This approach isn’t required, though: “As long as you get all 10 down, that’s fine with me.”

What may be most appropriate – and most poetic – is Raleigh’s Work of Art. “We’re getting a huge canvas and letting people just do their own art,” Traversari says.

Like that 10-by-14 crowd-sourced mural, Raleigh’s downtown fireworks are a work in progress, and Friday brings a new approach and a new chance for success.

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