Before there was singing and motorcycle stunts and a dazzling fireworks display, Stadium of Fire remembered the sacrifices of ordinary people.
The 2021 Stadium of Fire 40th anniversary show, held July 3 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, didn’t get fully underway until proper tribute was paid to past and present soldiers, but also to first responders, teachers and community leaders.
The popular Independence Day event, which was canceled last year for the first time in its history due to COVID-19, included a Color Guard, a flyover from two F-35s and a segment highlighting the event’s Freedom Awards Honorees.
Those honorees included the Puro sisters, five women from the same family who have all served or are serving in the military, and Leonard Bagalwa, the founder and executive director of Utah Valley Refugees.
And the entire production was broadcast to more than one million military members in over 100 countries via the American Forces Network.
“It is definitely one of the largest patriotic events in the nation,” said Emory Cook, owner of marketing company Blue Helm, which handles publicity for Stadium of Fire.
Stadium of Fire is organized each year by America’s Freedom Festival at Provo, a “private, non-profit, non-political foundation” that aims to “celebrate, teach, honor, and strengthen the traditional American values of God, family, freedom, and country,” according to its website.
The show is the centerpiece of the Freedom Festival’s 30-plus events and one of the few that requires tickets, Cook said.
Stadium of Fire isn’t a concert as much as it’s a community event, which is why it meant so much to community members to have the show back this year, he said.
“There is so much tradition and there are so many of the same families that come back every year,” Cook said. “I think that also makes it really special.”
This year’s show featured Grammy-winning country singer Lee Greenwood (famous for “God Bless The U.S.A.”) and country singer Collin Raye, who has had 16 No.1 hits and ten nominations for Male Vocalist of the Year across his career.
There was also a surprise performance from singer David Archuleta, who joined the 500-voice Millennial Choir, part of the Millennial Choirs & Orchestra group.
Archuleta, who sang the words “There ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy” with visible emotion, recently came out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community on social media.
Other talents included violinist Jenny Oaks Baker, who also performed with the Millennial Choir, and motorcycle stunt team Nitro Circus.
And though the show went on this year, it still took some COVID-19 precautions. Cook said while Stadium of Fire typically seats around 45,000 people, this year they capped attendance at 30,000 people. (LaVell Edwards Stadium has a 63,470-seat capacity, but Cook said Stadium of Fire planners block off one end zone for fireworks setup.)
He also said they encouraged every audience member to be vaccinated.
“With so many people being vaccinated, [with the show] being outside and [with] cases being obviously a lot lower now than they have been in the past, we’re pretty confident that this [was] a safe event,” he said.
Another concern was the fire hazard such a large fireworks show could present during a year that, as FOX13 recently reported, 98% of the state is under extreme or exceptional drought conditions.
But Cook said the Stadium of Fire show was a safe way to enjoy fireworks this year, one that people didn’t need a ticket to see.
“[It’s] a great opportunity for people to come and enjoy fireworks safely without setting them off in their neighborhoods and… doing something unsafe or causing a problem,” he said.
Kris Hoffman said that, as a Stadium of Fire attendee, she found the tribute to service members, first responders and others particularly touching. She’s lived outside of the U.S. and, she said, experienced what it’s like to not be truly free. “When I came back, I kissed the ground,” she said.
Audience member Mark Tenney added that he’s grateful for the freedoms he enjoys as an American.
“It’s important to recognize and always be grateful for things that we enjoy that others don’t,” he said, “and [to recognize] people that sacrifice so that it can be that way.”