The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra returns in 2023 with its annual summer concert series, Concerts in The Garden, featuring 11 concerts taking place at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, starting May 26 and running through June 11.
This year's lineup includes tributes to the Beatles, the Eagles, and Led Zeppelin, as well as nights featuring cinematic themes such as Harry Potter and Star Wars.
But the coolest part of the 2023 series might be the light show: For the first time, they're replacing old-school fireworks with the use of cutting-edge drones.
Drones are an innovative technology that creates stunning night-sky displays using LED lights. The practice of using drones to create light shows has only been around a few years, but has been used in high-profile Olympics ceremonies as well as by the city of Dallas, who added drones as an enhancement to its 2022 New Year's Eve fireworks display.
They're an up-and-comer with many benefits, both practically and aesthetically, says FWSO VP of operations John Clapp, including avoiding the potential to start fires, as Fort Worth endured on July 4, 2022 when a fireworks show at Panther Island Pavilion started a grass fire and the event had to be shut down.
"The Botanic Garden has a lot of grass, trees, and other landscaping that could pose an issue if fireworks were to go astray," Clapp says. "Parts of Texas are so dry and fires are not uncommon. This seems like a safer option."
"It also reduces the impact on homes and residences in the area - we don’t need that noise late at night and drones don’t have that problem," he says.
"We’re doing all kinds of enhancements to our indoor concerts, and we thought, why not do something with our outdoor concerts, too?" he says.
The company helping the FWSO with its programming is headquartered in North Richland Hills: Called Sky Elements, they're risen to become the top name in drone shows, flying all over the country, from Seattle to Key West to the Santa Monica Pier in California, where they'll be headed for Memorial Day.
The company employs a team of 3D animation specialists who can create displays with customized themes, says VP of development Rick Boss.
"That's one of the fun things about the Symphony's program, it has multiple unique themes like Star Wars, which is quite fun, like putting together pieces of a puzzle," Boss says.
Sky Elements started out as a pyrotechnics company, and they still do fireworks, but they're shifting all of their resources to drones, and can't keep up with demand.
From a practical standpoint, drones surpass fireworks because there's no risk of fire, and they're silent. Noise from fireworks is extremely harmful to people with PTSD as well as to wildlife and pets who get spooked and run in fear; the worst days of the year for animal shelters are July 4 and New Year's Eve.
Drones have also come down in cost to be about the same as fireworks, which have become more expensive in recent years.
The duration of a drone show is 10-15 minutes and is dependent on the drones' battery life. You measure the splendor of a drone show by how many drones. Ross says they've done shows with up to 1,000 drones; their shows for the Concerts in the Garden will deploy approximately 100 drones.
"It's a nice size, and most people haven't seen this before, so it will be a fun one," he says. "I get such a kick out of seeing the joy it brings to people."
Beyond the pragmatic element, drones also offer a more nimble and expansive palette, allowing designers to create designs and displays that fireworks cannot, says the FWSO's Clapp.
"Fireworks kind of spread out and do what they do," he says. "Pattern-wise, it's nice to look at, but the drone shows are artistically fantastic, with images that animate and move into 3D. They let you tell a story."