Thunder Over Louisville

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Thunder Over Louisville
Thunder logo.png
Date(s) April 12, 2014[1]
Frequency Annual
Years active 1990 (25 years ago)

Thunder Over Louisville, the annual kickoff event of the Kentucky Derby Festival, is an airshow and fireworks display held in mid April in Louisville, Kentucky. It is the largest annual fireworks display in North America[2] and has been held since 1990.

Thunder lasts throughout the day, and the fireworks display last for around half an hour, along with a synchronized soundtrack through PA and radio. An average of 625,000 people have attended each year since 1997, lining the banks of the Ohio River in Louisville, and across the river in Jeffersonville and Clarksville, Indiana. Some also watch from the river on boats, docked in positions auctioned off for charity.[3]

Eight 400-foot barges launch the fireworks, provided by Zambelli Fireworks Internationale, from both sides of the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge (Second Street Bridge), and more fireworks are launched from the bridge itself.

The estimated attendance at Thunder is usually (first decade, 21st Century) approximately five times that of the main attraction, the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs.


2006 show from the upstream side of the bridge on Indiana Shore of the Ohio River

The firework show began in 1990 at Cardinal Stadium in the Kentucky Exposition Center, where more than 35,000 people[citation needed] attended a Derby Festival opening ceremonies concert by Janie Fricke and a 4,000-shell[citation needed] fireworks show.[4] Thunder Over Louisville was originally inspired by the much larger WEBN Riverfest, Labor Day, fireworks display in Cincinnati, which has been a tradition since 1977.[citation needed] Fireworks had been used in Derby festivities since the 1960s, but the positive impact of fireworks on this concert—particularly the echoing sound—led to the firework show's name when it was held the following year over the Ohio River.[4]

In 1991 the event moved to Waterfront Park, and Zambelli Fireworks Internationale's Master Pyrotechnician Ray Loffredo began handling the fireworks. The Air Show began in 1992, and has featured such notable aircraft as the Harrier, the B-2 (Stealth Bomber), and the F-117 (Stealth Fighter) as well as the Apache Attack Helicopter.

The event expanded rapidly in scale and attendance; by 1996 more shells were exploded in the first minute than in the entire 1990 show. In 1997, the Air Force designated Thunder Over Louisville as one of two main events for its 50th anniversary celebration. More than 125 military aircraft performed that year, making it the largest combined fireworks and air show in the United States.[citation needed]

A view of Thunder Over Louisville from the Kentucky side of the Ohio River

The event relies heavily on corporate donations. In 2000, when Kroger pulled out after 10 years of sponsorship, the Kentucky Derby Festival was left scrambling for money. They announced the Thunder Funder program, in which individuals can make small donations. In 2006, McDonald's announced that they would be the title sponsor for Thunder Funder and donate 10 cents from the sale of every 32-ounce drink in a commemorative cup to the Derby Festival.[citation needed]

The fireworks show has grown in size and scope every year, with over 52,000 shells used in 2004, and 60,000 in 2005.[5] In 2006, the fireworks show lasted for 26 minutes.

The 2007 event tied 2006 for record crowd, whose size was estimated at 800,000. Such counts do not include thousands of people who watch from area rooftops at "Thunder parties" held by individuals with proximity advantaged addresses in downtown, Old Louisville, Portland and the Butchertown neighborhood immediately upriver from downtown, as well as river adjacent neighborhoods in the Indiana communities of Clarksville and Jeffersonville.

Although the weather in 2011 was downright miserable, people created a makeshift tent city and suffered through the day to see the spectacular show. from [1]

Thunder Over Louisville, has been televised by local television stations since the early 1990s. The 2007 version was the first to be broadcast entirely in HDTV. Past telecasts have used two or three HDTV cameras for the broadcast. Each year, the show is rebroadcast on the 4th of July, on the U.S. military's American Forces Network.[citation needed]

Themes and sponsors[edit]

Year Theme Corporate sponsors Attendance (estimate) Shells
1990 Opening Ceremonies of Derby Festival Kroger, Sam Meyers Formal Wear, Derby Cone Company, Oscar Mayer 35,000 4,000
1991 "Thunder Over Louisville" used for fireworks only. Kroger, UPS, Kool-Aid, Oscar Mayer
1992 Celebrating KY's Bicentennial year, "Celebrate Kentucky" Kroger, Louis Rich, UPS, Kool-Aid
1993 Derby Festival Opening Ceremonies: Thunder Over Louisville Kroger, Louis Rich, UPS, Coca-Cola, Paramount Foods
1994 "Phantom of the Opera" Kroger, Louis Rich, UPS, Coca-Cola, Paramount Foods
1995 "An American Thunder" Kroger, Louis Rich, UPS, Coca-Cola, Paramount Foods
1996 "A Hollywood Thunder" Kroger, Louis Rich, UPS, Coca-Cola, Tyson/Holly Farms
1997 "A Wild Blue Thunder" salutes the 50th Anniversary of the U.S. Air Force Kroger, Louis Rich, UPS, Coca-Cola, Tyson/Holly Farms 750,000[6]
1998 "A Thunder Fantasy…A Celebration of Children" Kroger, UPS, Coca-Cola, Kraft/Oscar Mayer 450,000[7] 34,126
1999 "The Best of Thunder" 10th Anniversary Kroger, UPS, Tyson/Holly Farms 500,000[7] 39,420
2000 "A Millennium Thunder" Blue Chip Broadcasting, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, Caesars Indiana, Ford, UPS 750,000[8] 45,000
2001 "A Festival Odyssey" Blue Chip Broadcasting, Caesars Indiana, Ford, UPS 700,000[9] 51,333
2002 "A Stars & Stripes Thunder" Caesars Indiana, Ford, Radio One, Thorntons, Tricon, UPS 600,000[10] 51,334
2003 "Centennial of Flight" Caesars Indiana, Ford, UPS, Yum! Brands 750,000[11] Under 50,000[12]
2004 "A Broadway Thunder" Caesars Indiana, Ford, UPS 700,000[13] 52,000
2005 "Thunder Rocks" Caesars Indiana, Chase, Ford, UPS 300,000[13] 60,000
2006 "Thunder Country" Caesars Indiana, Chase, E.On U.S., UPS 800,000[6]
2007 "The Magic of Thunder" Caesars Indiana, E.ON U.S., Meijer, UPS 850,000 62,000[14]
2008 "Out of This World" Horseshoe Casino and Hotel, E.ON U.S., Meijer, UPS 350,000 35,000+[15]
2009 "Thunder Road" Horseshoe Casino and Hotel, E.ON U.S., Meijer, UPS 700,000
2010 "Thunder Fever" Horseshoe Casino and Hotel, E.ON U.S., Meijer, UPS 700,000 56,215
2011 "Thunder Power" Horseshoe Southern Indiana, LG&E, Meijer, UPS 300,000 [16]
2012 "A Star-Spangled Blast" Horseshoe Southern Indiana, LG&E, Meijer, UPS 700,000 50,000
2013 "Thunder Vision" Horseshoe Southern Indiana, LG&E, Meijer, UPS 500,000 56,000+
2014 "Throwback Thunder" Horseshoe Southern Indiana, LG&E, Meijer, UPS TBA TBA
2015 "Boom with a View" Horseshoe Southern Indiana, LG&E, Meijer, UPS TBA TBA

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Thunder, races scheduled earlier for 2014 festival". Retrieved 18 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Bolin, Rowena. "Thunder Over Louisville will light up the skies with an explosion of excitement". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved 2007-07-06. [dead link]
  3. ^ Hall, Gregory (April 23, 2005). "Boaters pay up for dockside Thunder". The Courier-Journal. p. B1. 
  4. ^ a b "Thunder Over Louisville". Thunder Over Louisville. Archived from the original on 2011-02-23. Retrieved 2011-02-23. 
  5. ^ Shafer, Sheldon (March 15, 2005). "New sponsor, community punch up Thunder". The Courier-Journal. p. B5. 
  6. ^ a b "Thunder rolls on the river", The Courier-Journal, April 22, 2006. Retrieved April 23, 2006.
  7. ^ a b Walfoort, Tina (1999-04-18). "Despite cold, Thunder still thrills". The Courier-Journal. p. 1B. 
  8. ^ Coomes, Mark (2000-04-16). "Mega-Thunder!". The Courier-Journal. p. 1B. 
  9. ^ Smith, Peter (2001-04-22). "THUNDER: Fireworks, air". The Courier-Journal. p. 1B. 
  10. ^ Edelyn, Sheryl (2002-04-21). "Trashy scene greets cleanup workers at Waterfront Park a day after Thunder". The Courier-Journal. p. 1B. 
  11. ^ Kenning, Chris (April 13, 2003). "Thunderous Salutes". The Courier-Journal. p. B1. 
  12. ^ An official count was not released for this show, which was scaled down due to budget reductions
  13. ^ a b Halladay, Jessie (April 24, 2005). "Cool show, cooler weather". The Courier-Journal. p. B1. 
  14. ^ Ritchie, Christa (2007-04-21). "Counting the hours to Thunder". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved 2009-04-23. 
  15. ^ Shafer, Sheldon (2008-02-07). "Thunder theme 'Out of This World'". The Courier-Journal. 
  16. ^ Downs, Jere (2011-04-16). "Thunder Over Louisville's noise quieted by windy, wet chill". The Courier-Journal. 

External links[edit]