The Bay City Fireworks Festival will light up the sky again this July

The 2021 Bay City Fireworks Festival will be a celebration of life in more ways than one.

In June 2020, organizers announced the celebration was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, in November 2020, Terry Watson, the man affectionally known as Mr. Fireworks, died from COVID-19 complications.

As Watson would have wanted, the show goes on this year.

Festival President Doug Clark says the community is ready to celebrate after more than a year of restrictions and quarantines. On Sat., July 3, during the final and biggest show of the three-day festival, organizers will celebrate Watson’s life.

“We’re looking pretty good and going full steam ahead to having a great event,” Clark says. “I think everybody is so tired of being cooped up. Everybody is ready to get out and enjoy life a bit.”

Before you head out to enjoy the carnival, music, food, vendors, and fireworks from July 1-3, Bay County Public Health Officer Joel Strasz recommends taking a few precautions.

“The very best thing people can do is get vaccinated right away,” Strasz says. “They can still be fully vaccinated if they get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. We’ve got plenty of Johnson & Johnson.”

You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, meaning you need the vaccine in your arm by Fri. , June 18 to be vaccinated for the festival.

If you can’t do that, then Strasz recommends immediately beginning the two-dose series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. The sooner, the better. If you get the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine by Fri., June 18, you’ll have 60% protection against contracting a serious case of COVID-19 during the festival. The schedule of upcoming clinics is posted on the Bay County Department of Public Health website.

Since much of the festival takes places outdoors, it’s safer than many other activities. However, Strasz says everyone – especially those who aren’t fully vaccinated – needs to be cautious about joining indoor parties.

“Once you get indoors and you’re not vaccinated, your chances of contracting coronavirus are substantially increased,” Strasz says.

Even at outdoor parties or in the public parks, Strasz suggests paying close attention to your surroundings and trying to maintain at least 6 feet between you and other guests.

“The second thing people can do is obviously avoid crowds,” Strasz says. “I think about when I went to the fireworks back in the days of yore, and I really wasn’t right next to someone.”

The number of COVID-19 cases in Bay County is steadily dropping while the number of people fully vaccinated is rising, but Strasz encourages people to continue to take the risk seriously. The new Delta variant, which has been detected through the country, is more contagious and dangerous than earlier versions of the virus.

Strasz also encourages people to be understanding of each other. If someone is wearing a mask, it might be that they’re nervous or having an underlying condition which puts them at higher risk for the virus. He also cautions to not assume everyone not wearing a mask is fully vaccinated.

Clark says he’s met with the Bay County Health Department, McLaren Bay Region, and city officials about how to keep festival goers safe. While masks will not be required in any outdoor spaces, festival organizers plan to encourage people to maintain distance between different groups of people.

For the most part, the festival will look like it has in years past. Skerbeck Family Carnival will set up in Veterans Memorial Park on the West Side of the river. Vendors will set up in Traders Alley in the area near the tennis courts in Vets Park. “We’ve expanded Traders Alley,” Clark says. “We’ve got a nice, big vendor area.”

On the East Side, entertainment is planned in Wenonah Park every night. VIP tickets are available to enjoy food, drinks and the show from underneath the Nickless Family Community Pavilion in Wenonah Park.

Before the big show, which is Sat., July 3, the festival committee will pay tribute to Watson. Clark has invited local dignitaries and Watson’s family to a special celebration of his life at about 9:30 p.m. A screen on the new band shell will show highlights of Watson’s career and the many stunts he used to stage to raise money for the festival.

“He used to do a lot of crazy things to raise money for the event,” Clark remembers. “He was in a sewer drain, out on the river in a dinghy, up on scaffolding by Labadie’s. The event is as big as it is because of him.”

Once the fireworks start, the tributes don’t end. The show opens with a ladder to the sky in Watson’s memory. And throughout the show, the broadcast will include Watson’s voice. Tune in to WHNN 96.1 to hear the music and Watson’s voice during the show.

One misconception that people may have is that the festival has money from 2020 to spend on the 2021 show. Clark says most of the 2020 fundraisers were canceled, so the festival didn’t have extra cash.

“We’re going to have a great show, but everybody thinks we’re going to have this huge show,” Clark says. “We did not solicit money for last year. We didn’t get our sponsorship money because we didn’t have the event.”

One new fundraiser this year is the sale of small, legal fireworks for individuals. The festival is selling Class C fireworks (multi-shot cakes, fountains, mortars, firecrackers, and sparklers) at a roadside stand at 1200 W. Thomas St. The money raised there will help pay for the community-wide celebration.

Donations also are being accepted for the event. To contribute, mail a check to Bay City Fireworks Festival, 1200 W. Thomas St., Bay City, MI 48706. Mail checks payable to BCFF.

“We’re hoping folks come down to the park and patronize the event,” Clark says, but he reminds people to use common sense. “We don’t want the Fireworks Festival to cause more hardship from people coming down with COVID after this event. We want people to be aware that this thing is still out there. There’s still a possibility of spread. We just ask people to be safe.”