Here's what to expect from Modesto's July Fourth laser show

Sure, it's Independence Day, but for we who are captivated by those residential holiday lighting displays that are synchronized to music, tonight should be like Christmas in July. In Enslen Park, at Stoddard and Enslen avenues in Modesto, Lightwave International will stage a show that projects lasers onto huge screens and into fog-drenched air, all choreographed to a booming, patriotic score.

We talked with Alan Fuehrer, a production manager with Lightwave International, and Vincent Sandoval, Fourth of July event chairman with the sponsoring Modesto Jaycees, about what spectators can expect from the free show.

THE SOUNDS: "It's a patriotic show, although I do occasionally get the call about a Fourth of July Pink Floyd laser show," Fuehrer said. "I think it's an awesome idea, but nobody wants to make that decision on behalf of their town. We've toured with Roger Waters for a couple of years, and we have great Pink Floyd content, but it's not what most people want. ... This show is graphics and images set to patriotic music of a variety of genres, and it's absolutely family-friendly content."

THE SIGHTS: There are two facets of the roughly half-hour laser show: lights projected onto screens and beams emitted into open air. "There will be screens at least 40 feet in size that will be hung about four stories in the air," Fuehrer said, "and onto those will be a show that we've custom prepared. We custom prepare all of our shows; every show we do is unique. ... So that will take place on the screens, with a big sound system they're providing in the park. And then there will be two additional laser systems operating in full color -- millions of colors -- that we will use for a live beam show over the heads of the audience. We will generate lots of fog to enhance the beams' effect as they pass through the air."

Laser shows and fireworks alike are "big bold, bright, flashy, exciting events," Fuehrer said. "But fireworks take place in the sky, while laser shows are best experienced when they take place near you or around you. That's where their impact is. So your best vantage point in a laser show is right up there by the screen as opposed to a block back on the sidewalk under the trees. It's not best to be viewed like a drive-in movie, perhaps, but to be experienced up close."

There's no disadvantage to being off to the side when watching, Fuehrer said. "It's not like trying to watch an LCD TV or a plasma TV too far from the side. It's clearly visible from anywhere you can see the screen. You don't have to be right in front, straight on."

The powerful lasers are some of the largest in the world, identical to ones Lightwave International uses for concerts by artists including Madonna and the rock band Korn. But for safety concerns such as not posing a danger to aircraft, Lightwave will be using Enslen Park's trees to "terminate" the lasers, "so it's not an event in the sky that you'll be able to watch from your porch a few blocks away," Fuehrer said.

Sandoval said: "As long as you're within the tree line, you'll have a great view from anywhere in the park."

THE SETUP: "I believe the lasers will be emitted from around home plate of the west ballfield in the park," Sandoval said. Once the light and sound equipment is in place this morning, "people are more than welcome to put out blankets to hold spaces. We really want to pack the park, though, so we'll be asking people to scrunch in, maybe families can share blankets."

Added Fuehrer: "We don't take up much space. We actually are reducing our setup in response to the Jaycees' request. We've really pared it down to minimize any distraction from the screens."

THE PRESHOW: Before the laser show starts at 9:30 p.m., there will be a 6 p.m. concert at Enslen Park by Nadine the Band and DAM. Also today is the 10 a.m. downtown parade and the Picnic in the Park at neighboring Graceada Park from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., with vendors, food booths, children's activities and entertainment.

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