Thunder Over Louisville: Largest Firework Show in the United States and Kickoff for the Kentucky Derby Festival

Updated on March 7, 2018

Bourbon! Horse Racing! Kentucky Fried Chicken!

That’s what comes to most people’s mind when I mention Kentucky, but there is actually more. Louisville is the home of the largest and most spectacular firework show in the nation: “Thunder Over Louisville.”

Source

Every year this event kicks off the official two week celebration of The Kentucky Derby Festival. Thunder brings an average of 500,000 spectators each year to see four 100-foot barges blast off a 30 minute firework display along with a 100 plane air show and a skydiving team. They gather on the banks of the Ohio River, watch from boats, and stand on roof tops to gaze at this amazing show consisting of 60 tons of fireworks.

The barges are placed on both sides of the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge in Kentucky and Indiana and on the one mile bridge itself, creating a water fall effect thanks to Zambelli Fireworks Internationale. This intricate display of pyrotechnics is ignited by the press of a button by a selected person known as a “Thundernator.”

In 2001 the Thundernators chosen were the nation’s first two successful hand transplant surgery recipients. Matthew Scott and Jerry Fisher together pressed the button to kick off the 2001 festivities. They both received their surgery in Louisville and ironically both lost their hands in a firework accident. There was also a Thundernator by the name of Matt Marks aka “Thunder Boy” who donated $3.00 of his allowance when Thunder Over Louisville was in financial trouble.

Have you ever seen the firework display at Thunder Over Louisville?

See results

Along with the show there is a soundtrack that is synchronized with the exploding shells. A variety of music is played trying to tap into every type of music enthusiast. My personal favorite is when “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd is played simply because the show is in Louisville and the nearest city in Alabama is about 300 miles away. Thunder over Louisville has a different theme every year. Past themes have been “Phantom of the Opera” in 1994,"Celebrate Kentucky" which was Kentucky’s bicentennial birthday in 1992, and “A Millennium Thunder” in the year 2000.

Source

If you go, here is some advice based on my past experiences:

Pegasus Pin: If you plan to attend the show admission is free if you buy a “Pegasus Pin” which will cost about $5.00. I know that is not exactly free but the pin will also get you into other Kentucky Derby events. You can purchase them at grocery stores, gas stations, or just buy one at the Thunder entrance.

Skateboard/Bicycle: Traffic is horrifying especially when Thunder is over. There are hundreds of thousands of people trying to arrive or leave at the same time. Parking in a neighborhood a few miles away from the event and finding an alternate form of transportation is the best way to get around. The city provides free bike parking and locking up to a parking meter or anything else is fine. A skateboard is also another practical way to get around. You can take it into the event with you and use it to shield yourself from drunks.

Food and Beer: You will not go hungry at Thunder Over Louisville. There is plenty of food ranging from hamburgers, hotdogs, elephant ears, cotton candy, and many other carnival type options along with kegs of beer to wash it down. However the food is kind of pricey and if you are on a budget I suggest you eat before and “Ho-Bo Joe” a pint of Kentucky Bourbon inside. You can also purchase street food and beer in the surrounding neighborhoods on your way to and from the event. The locals take advantage of the thousands of people that invade their neighborhoods each year and set up make shift food and soda stands, and yes there is beer underneath those sodas for sale, just ask. But don’t get caught, Louisville has a strict open container law and sneaking alcohol into the event is prohibited.

Source

Go to a Party: There are plenty of parties and barbeques celebrating in the surrounding neighborhoods. People are very friendly this time of year and will usually just invite you in off of the streets. Sometimes I skip going down to the waterfront altogether and just go to a party. I have just as much fun and can usually get on top of a roof and enjoy the show.

If you live in or plan to visit Kentucky try to attend Thunder Over Louisville. Remember this is only one of the many events celebrating the Kentucky Derby.

Watch the Thunder Over Louisville Firework Display Now!

Thunder Over Louisville is located at Waterfront Park

A markerWaterfront Park -
Waterfront Park, 129 River Rd, Louisville, KY 40202, USA
get directions

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        Jim 

        11 months ago

        THey need more tonnage!

      • Christy Kirwan profile image

        Christy Kirwan 

        15 months ago from San Francisco

        Fireworks are the shit!

      • amareyes profile image

        amareyes 

        15 months ago

        The brilliance of this article (formerly known as a Hub), is beyond the most awesome of interstellar findings known to our species to date.

      • profile image

        Broseph 

        20 months ago

        Wow! I've never heard of this. I want to check it out!

      • TimArends profile image

        Timothy Arends 

        3 years ago from Chicago Region

        One thing I like about the Kentucky Derby is even if you are not into horse racing, there is still plenty to do in and around the area, and the fantastic fireworks describe here are just another example.

      • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

        Barbara Anne Helberg 

        6 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

        @Matt Wells...Thanks for sharing this thunderous applause for "Thunder Over Louisville", a kick-off event for the world famous Kentucky Derby and its festival.

        Spectacular photos, as well!

      • profile image

        Greg J McCombs 

        7 years ago

        Great story. Who knew the greatest fireworks display in the US is ACTUALLY in Louisville, Kentucky for the DERBY! :)

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wanderwisdom.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://wanderwisdom.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)