We went to the desert to get a sneak peek of the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks show

At an unaddressed location in the Mojave Desert, a small group gathered to test new fireworks for the Macy’s 4th of July show in New York City.

The mid-June test near Lucerne Valley is one of the final stages in the almost year-long planning process for the nation’s largest pyrotechnics show.

As the summer sun finally set, the control table began to count down: three … two … one. Fire.


A single firework lit up the sky.

A chorus of “wows” followed as it slowly dissipated.

Then another. And another. And another. No two quite alike: some larger, some multicolored, some that divided into smaller fireworks as they exploded. The team kept going for more than an hour.

The goal of the test is to time the fireworks correctly, said Will Coss, executive producer of the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks. At a Monday night test in the desert, the team tried out more than 200 brand-new shells — a small sampling of what is to come on Independence Day, Coss added.

Gary Souza, a pyrotechnic designer for Pyro Spectaculars by Souza, said about 30% of the fireworks they were testing were unseen in the United States.

Gary, along with brother Jim, represents the fourth generation of the 100-year-old family business. The fifth and sixth generations of the family also were present at the test.

Souza and Macy’s have been working together for decades; the teams are in “lockstep,” Coss said.

“It’s really evolved into more of a friendship,” said Jim, who’s president and CEO of the company.

The Souza team spends the whole year meeting with pyrotechnics manufacturers worldwide.

“It’s not cliché that we start a year in advance,” Jim said. “We will look at this show — or even tonight, it’s a test. So I’m looking at this and what works, what doesn’t work [and getting] back to the manufacturers right away, either reordering because it’s so good or mak[ing] a tweak for next year.”

A staple of Independence Day for almost five decades, the 48th annual Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks show will feature more than 60,000 shells during the 25-minute show. Last year, Macy’s introduced New York City’s first live drone show.

This year, Macy’s and Souza are aiming higher: They are showcasing the nation’s first-ever fireworks on drone show, Jim said. The Federal Aviation Administration only just approved the practice a few weeks ago, he added.

“With Macy’s, it’s always trying to be bigger and better than ever,” Gary said. “They want to do the best that they can for America.”

“For those 25 minutes of pyrotechnics, we can all stand shoulder to shoulder — strangers, friends, family, loved ones — [and] just experience a little bit of joy, a little bit of inspiration, have a moment of reflection, have a moment to just share a little bit of artistic beauty and inspiration,” Coss said.

Following the traditional fireworks test, the team drove even further into the desert. Now past 10 p.m., crewmembers assembled in front of — but at a safe distance from — a 5×5 drone display.

“We’re hoping to do something that’s never been done in America,” Gary said.

A worker ensured all the drones were in order, switching out any that were lit up incorrectly. Once the control table was satisfied, the team counted off.

The drones flew up in sync, flashing the red, white and blue colors of the nation. Reaching the opportune height, the pyros began.

Once again, a chorus of “wows” and cheers sped through the small but excited team.

The test was a success. Macy’s is on track to bring pyro-drones to a U.S. audience.

The annual show has been held all over New York City. Fireworks have exploded from iconic landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building. After 10 years on the East River, the team is bringing the spectacular to the Hudson River this year.

“We’ve been on the east side of New York for the last 10 years,” Coss said. “We figured it was an opportunity to share a little bit of this spectacular tradition with our friends on the west side.”

He also said the Hudson River location gives them room to play with larger shells.

Last year, the broadcast of the event doubled its 2022 viewership on Peacock, Variety reported. Both the 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. broadcasts on NBC also grew.

“Our goal every year is to continue to increase our viewership, increase our excitement, increase our technology, increase our pyro,” Coss said.

The Fourth of July show will feature live performances from country stars Lainey Wilson and Tanner Adell, “Despacito” singer Luis Fonsi and husband-and-wife country duo the War and Treaty. This year’s score — with which the Souza team times the fireworks — is composed by Jason Howland, known for his work on “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” and “Little Women” on Broadway.

Born and raised in New York City, Coss calls his job — and the opportunity to put on the iconic show — a “dream come true.”

“There is only one Fourth of July in New York City,” Coss said, “and we are grateful and fortunate enough to be the team that brings it to life.”

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