For most Louisvillians, Thunder Over Louisville is the official kick-off to Derby Season. Whether you’ve had your Pegasus Pin for weeks or buy it from one of the many Kentucky Derby Festival volunteers lining the streets on the big day, you need a funnel cake on the Waterfront watching fighter jet fly-bys before it feels like time to begin the multi-week countdown to the Run for the Roses.
While portable potties are legitimately one of my biggest fears & I have actual nightmares about finding parking downtown & getting out of said parking when it’s over, I still ADORE Thunder. For me, there is no amount of headache that could make me miss it.
I have dear friends & family who feel the exact opposite. They prefer to spend a normal day at home & turn on the TV around 8PM to catch the show on the couch with, what they argue to be, considerably better sound.
I understand where they’re coming from. It is the more comfortable option. But, I want to feel the bass in my chest & shudder when the cannon erupts from its post on the Second Street Bridge. I want to smile like a child at the delicate descending explosions of the whispering willows. Those are my favorite. They’re hypnotic.
For me, it is that collective PAUSE that makes Thunder so beautiful. The way we all stop & turn our gaze to the sky at the same time. The forgetting of differences. The togetherness.
The day before this year’s big show, I had the honor of going behind-the-scenes at the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport Command Center to participate in pre-Thunder activities & meet the team who have literally given a large part of their lives to bring us our favorite sky scene of the year. Observing the people who bring Thunder to life made it even more special to me.
Mandie Creed grew up in the world of Thunder. Her father, Tim, was one of the founders of the event, along with multi-media visionary Wayne Hettinger, whose dream & determination led to its launch. In fact, Mandie has never seen Thunder Over Louisville from anywhere but the Galt House & she’s okay with that view. Now in her 6th year as the Director, 11th overall, “Junior” (her affectionate call sign) has the honor of sitting alongside her father, who passed the tile to her, & Wayne prepping for & running the event from above.
Meeting her on the day before THE NIGHT you would never know that she was readying for an audience of several hundred thousand. When asked about the anticipation & nerves she said, “To be honest right now it’s all adrenaline. My to-do list is huge & will keep growing until tomorrow. But there is no place I’d rather be & nothing I’d rather be doing.”
Just then her father walked in & gave her a proud squeeze on the shoulder, followed immediately by Wayne, who put his arm around her & said, “How about we do this again?” with a bright smile.
They went on to joke about their traditions including the special crunch time fuel of Twizzlers for Mandi & olives for Wayne. The trio agreed that the responsibility for something of this magnitude can be overwhelming. “We all go out on the balcony at least once a year & stare in awe of this thing we get to do,” Tim said with a reverent tone, “but we have a great crew & we always get it done, even if there are a few bumps in the road.”
The affection the full team has for one another is nothing short of family. Despite the enormous weight of the production, they were all laughs & jokes in between tech checks & interviews throughout the morning. Wayne even paused to invite us to get in on the white beans & cornbread lunch tradition in the adjacent room. I expected a catered spread, but walked in to find three mismatched crockpots of home recipes cooked with love. Long time Thunder team member Ms. Treva walked in & said, “It’s been this way from the beginning, girls, enjoy it & let me know if you need anything.” I wanted to stay all day.
Thunder celebrated it’s 30th anniversary this weekend & while that is a long time, it is clear from the energy of this crew that they are just getting started. I look forward to many more like this year’s Wonderful World of Thunder & to checking in on the Thunder family next season as they prep for round thirty-one.