This Juneteenth, there’s a new show that’s a tribute to the end of slavery in the U.S.

The producers picked a playlist of songs to fit the themes of freedom, hope and strength.

They choreographed the music with 1,700 fountain jets and lights with infinite color combinations.

The show tackles all of this in about 30 minutes, ending with Beyoncé belting “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Longwood Gardens’ big fountain shows, including illuminated shows at night and shows with fireworks, are back after a year break because of the pandemic. The traditional Independence Day patriotic show returns, along with classical themes, movie soundtracks and classic rock. There are also new shows exploring The Rolling Stones, hip-hop and Dolly Parton.

Festival of Fountains

Each performance may have a different soundtrack, yet they all star Longwood Gardens’ grand main fountains, designed by Pierre du Pont and unveiled in 1931. The fountains got a modern upgrade in 2017 with a $90 million renovation.

Since then, Tom Warner, director of performing arts, and his team created dozens of shows, taking advantage of the new technology.

They have at their fingertips thousands of jets that spray, soar, form fans, basketweave and even shoot flames. The new LED lights have a wide range of color combinations.

“It’s still exciting,” he says, even years into working with the new system.

A designer just discovered a way to move the fountains on the top level even slower, “which enabled him to move those particular features in a more subtle and almost balletic point in the song,” Warner says.

From classical to classic rock

The performing arts team were working on the 2020 lineup when COVID-19 closed the site. Later in the summer when the gardens reopened, the big nighttime fountain shows with fireworks did not return. The shows usually attracted large crowds and were expensive to produce, Warner says.

This year, the shows are back.

Warner and his team kept a few performances slated for 2020 for this year, including one featuring The Rolling Stones and one focused on Tchaikovsky.

They also created a few new themes, in the hope of giving as many people as possible something to enjoy.

The new shows include a hip-hop show, a theme that’s been on the back burner for a while.

A show with songs about the weather felt like a fun, feel-good show, Warner says.

And a women-focused show will honor female artists, including Rihanna and K-pop group Momoland.

“The last two years of events of the world, the cultural forces at hand, it just felt really important to us to honor a lot of these women artists,” Warner says.

The Juneteenth performance comes from the gardens’ efforts to look inward.

“The end of slavery and things that are occurring in society today are sometimes really heavy and really difficult things to think of, but Longwood has no desire to shy away from that. This is one way for us to acknowledge the importance of that event (Juneteenth) and help illuminate and actually increase the amount of awareness.”

Each fireworks show comes together with the performing arts team coordinating with Rozzi Pyrotechnics through the design process, making sure details from the pacing and the colors fit the soundtrack and the fireworks.

“This is a collaborative effort. There are so many different people having key parts in this,” Warner says. “It’s not just one person sitting up there pulling a bunch of levers.”

And the levers start lighting up July 3.

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