I had heard good things. I had a blast. I bought the shirt.
The stories were true: Wamego, KS knows how to throw down for Independence Day. And it doesn’t really make sense how or why.
Wamego, population ~5,000, turns into Boomtown USA every year on July 4th. There’s a carnival, a car show, a parade, a small myriad of ancillary events, picnics and potlucks, and THE fireworks show. Available parking disappears for what feels like miles, there are busses to ferry people in from [what is nearly out-of-town] off-site parking, and people fill the streets. For the last couple years it has been estimated that the event attendance swells the local population a whole order of magnitude: tens of thousands of people will inhabit Wamego for this one day.
I was lucky to have a friend that lives in Wamego and thus a driveway to park in and a place to go to sleep at the end of the night. I arrived there at around 2pm (the fireworks weren’t until 10) and the signs were clear that the area was already geared up for an event. Residents had pseudo-reserved parking spaces marked off in front of their house, there were already more cars on the streets than I had become accustomed to seeing when visiting my friend’s house, and families had already begun setting off fireworks of their own. Front yards became venues, house and garage doors remained open, and easy-ups dotted the lawns. The pleasant cacophony set an expectant tone that left me perpetually excited throughout the afternoon and evening.
The fireworks show is rated the best in Kansas. And there’s little doubt as to why. It lasts for a half-hour, has two acts, is choreographed to music (which is broadcasted over FM radio), and the pyrotechnics team effectively begins working on next year’s show the day after clean up ends. The show is free and the entire thing is financed via donations. It’s such a loved event that there are previous attendees who now live out of state that are still donors. It hadn’t always been as involved of an event as it is now, but it has been a cherished staple for the town for decades, and only recently has the attendance begun to significantly increase.
I struggle to think of another example in my life where I experienced sustained joy over as many hours as I had for Boomtown. It was 9 hours of awesome. A workday’s worth of time, overflowing with exuberance.