Larry Cruikshank / Special to the Sun
Sunday, July 5, 2009 | 12:54 a.m.
Fourth of July coverage
Hundreds of locals and tourists gathered under the Fremont Street Experience's canopy to celebrate the Fourth of July with an innovative twist.
While many look forward to the holiday's spectacular fireworks shows, visitors downtown instead got to witness virtual fireworks on the Viva Vision big screen that features more than 12 million lights.
During the light shows, many stood with their necks craned to take in the view of the big screen while others danced and sang along to familiar favorites like Don McLean's "American Pie." The light shows coincided with the Fremont Street Experience's "Summer of '69" theme and members of the crowd, regardless of age, seemed to enjoy them.
"It's about bringing America together," said Eric Snyder, 25, of Las Vegas, after the night's first virtual display. Snyder also liked the fact that the digital fireworks "won't burn anyone's house down."
Others liked that admission to the Fremont Street Experience is free.
DeShaun Turner, 25, of Las Vegas, brought his nephew and three nieces downtown so they could have a good time without the risk of getting burned by sparklers or a rogue flying spinner.
"The Fourth of July is really for the kids," he said. "It's all about the fireworks and down here it's safe."
In addition to the shows up above, performances by live bands on two stages kept visitors entertained. The "Summer of '69" concert series is the reason many made their way downtown.
"It brings back old memories for me," local resident Andre Wilson said while listening to the band California Dreamin' perform Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride." "I'm proud to be an American and respect all those that came before me and allowed me to have these freedoms. It's an important holiday and this is such a great way to celebrate it."
Nick Krein, 19, of Modesto, Calif., studied the crowd during Class Act's set. It was his first Fourth of July in Las Vegas and he wasn't sure what to expect.
"I like the atmosphere here," Krein said. "People are laid back and seem to be having a good time."
Locals Brian Jackson and Kim Chambers brought their children to the Fremont Street Experience to see Grass Roots and the area in front of the stage was packed by the time the band performed at 9 p.m.
"I grew up listening to them with my dad so I wanted us to come out and see them," Jackson said. "The Fourth of July is a good time to get together with friends and family."
Before the band took the stage, a speaker reminded the audience not to forget those who served in the military, making special note of Vietnam veterans.
"While we were talking about things like Woodstock, they were talking about places like Saigon," he said.
The holiday has a special meaning for Edward Soto, 28. He and his friends are stationed at a Naval base in San Diego and decided to travel to Las Vegas for the weekend.
"The Fourth of July always meant something to me," Soto said. "My parents came to this country to find work and I'm doing what I can to pay back what this country did for my family."
Others in the crowd weren't there to celebrate the holiday at all. Bri Eshleman, 21, and Jayme Donohoe, 21, both from Vancouver, Canada, came to Las Vegas because they had time off from work for Canada Day, which was Wednesday.
"We aren't really celebrating the holiday, but I am celebrating winning $35 at Fitzgerald's on my first trip to Las Vegas," Donohoe said.
When asked why she chose downtown instead of the Strip for her first trip the Las Vegas, Ehlesman said a friend of hers was just here and recommended "old Las Vegas."
Despite the lack of pyrotechnics, traditional favorites like hot dogs, hamburgers and beer were easily found downtown. In front of several casinos, white picket fences created mini backyards where people could pretend that they were at a cookout despite the large canopy of lights above them.