Thunder over Evans Continues to Impress
“It’s funny, I thought about it. It’s kind of redundant to have the lumberjack throwing axes at a target. We now have three areas where weapons are being thrown…you can throw tomahawks at a target, the circus act is bringing a saloon act where they do knife throwing at each other AND they have a girl tied down on a spinning wheel that they are gonna throw knives at. So you have three areas. It may be a little redundant. It’s insane.”
Founded in 2009 by area businessmen Donnie Thompson (owner of Windsor Jewelers), Andy Jones (owner of Gerald Jones Auto Group) and the late Dale Phelon, Thunder Over Evans is known as the largest privately funded Armed Forces Day celebration in the country.
Shane Thompson said the reason this whole event came together was because of a display of disrespect that two of the founders witnessed.
“I think when everybody talks about this, they’re going, ‘Well, there’s some twist to it, what are the businesses getting out of it, or how are you making money from it?’ And it all began from three local business guys — two of them were out, and they were traveling back and saw a soldier get disrespected when he was trying to come home in the airport,” Thompson said.
“And I think that had an impact on them, and when they got back they said, ‘We’re gonna make sure that in Augusta, we’ll take out a day and try to bring the civilians together with the military and show a day of appreciation where the military will have a blast, they’ll be celebrated, and the civilians can see the impact that they make by appreciating the soldiers.’”
Taking place on Armed Forces Day, Saturday May 18th, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., the day is packed with adrenaline pumping entertainment. Features include extreme sports from freestyle motocross & BMX to pogo stuntmen and hatchet throwing lumberjacks.
Thunder Over Evans is programmed for the gung ho military men and women the event so ably honors, with over-the-top attractions sure to grab everyone’s attention.
Everything, it seems, is high octane. Shane Thompson, son of Donnie Thompson, digs up the performers to organize into Thunder Over Evans each year. An admitted adrenaline junkie himself, Thunder Over Evans has grown to reflect Shane’s interests in pushing the limits.
Crowd favorites are the Lumberjack and Motocross shows. Thompson said “This year motocross star Scott Murray is returning to finish what he started here in Evans two years ago…a double back flip. There are only four other people in the world who can do this stunt, but they all do it indoors.”
“A couple of years ago it was gusty at the end of the day, and we couldn’t afford to pay him but for the one time-it’s many thousands of dollars for him to do this one trick. Well, he comes up to me and says, ‘Shane, if I do this trick right now I’m going to die. I’m not going to do this in front of my kids and my family. You can take the money back, I’m not going to do it.’’’
“We were like, this is supposed to be fun, we’re cool, maybe another time. Well, this year he’s coming back to do it,” Thompson said.
“He’s way up in the air doing two backflips. It’s a split second trick, so if you blink you may miss it.”
Thompson says he is bringing a pad, “something to protect him in case he misses it.”
But, lets face it. The fireworks are truly the star of the show, having raised the bar for locals much the same way the Augusta National has raised the bar for golf. There are so many explosions happening in the air at once Thunder Over Evans organizers actually suggest wearing sunglasses.
“Of all the things that are new, we’re adding two pieces to the fireworks show that will blow your mind,” according to Thompson. “The percussive piece, the sonic wave- it’s a shock wave that goes off at the end. I mean there is nothing like it.”
“Our fireworks guy, Craig Butler, is a wizard. He thinks all this out,” Thompson said.
“It’s beyond a call of duty, it’s like a passion, he’s driving to multiple states to get elements to add to the show.”
“The other fireworks piece, well, it is supposed to be a surprise. But let’s just say it took some convincing to allow it to go forward. The head of the Pyrotechnic Guild International had to write to Columbia County, as well as the founder of the pyro team Thunder is using, to get permission” according to Thompson.
There are essentially three different entities coming together to produce the fireworks show.
The Lumberjack Show is a must-see. The Wisconsin-based Timberworks “Olympics of the Forest” features a log-rolling pool, speed pole climbing, axe throwing, chopping and new this year is the saloon show, featuring the knife throwing Thompson referenced earlier.
There are the BMX motocross pros, including X Games medalist Rob Nolli. The BMX area is set up in the same place as the motorized, freestyle motocross (FMX).
The Kid Zone has more than 20 inflatables and features a 128-foot inflatable course, giving spectators a place to take on friends and members of the military. The circus is coming back this year and we are opening up a little earlier as well. We’d like for the little kids to kind of get in front for everything. Maybe go home and rest and come back out for the fireworks and shows, so we’re opening the gates a little earlier this year, at 10:00,” Thompson shared.
Other entertainment includes west coast party band No Limits performing all kinds of popular hits for every age group and the Augusta Boxing Club is putting on two 45 minute exhibitions.
Amid all the excitement, there also are some important things going on, such as the swearing in of new recruits, who go directly to basic training after taking the oath.
“The general comes out and talks about the involvement with the military and the community,” Thompson said. “At the end of that, they get all the new enlistees and bring them in front with the general, and then he swears them all in. And then the soldiers do this chant, and it’s really emotional to hear them saying all of this in unison, and you can see the enlistees are just… it’s cool.”
There will be military displays including helicopters-one being the feared Blackhawk-as well as a Georgia State Patrol chopper, a paladin tank, humvees, and many more cool toys.
Thompson says the crowd swells to an estimated 25,000-30,000 people at the end of the day.
“People kind of park all over the area. “
A hot air balloon will be on site for a few hours, taking visitors up for a birds eye view of the Lady A.
It’s important to the people involved — and to the county, Thompson said — to keep bringing this day to the Augusta area.
“I think it means something to (the troops) to know that people come and they appreciate their service,” founder Donnie Thompson said. “And I think to see them and thank them and see the flags flying — it just gives you a feeling that we don’t have in this country too often.”