The most popular, privately funded event in the U.S. for the military — Thunder Over Evans — is back next week. Not only is this event all about honoring the nation’s troops, but it’s also somewhat of an outdoor circus. It’s all totally free to get in, too.
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 takes over the area at Evans Towne Center Park. It’s known as the largest privately funded Armed Forces Day celebration in the country.
Taking place from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, May 19, the day is jam-packed with death-defying entertainment, from extreme pogo (people gaining major air by flipping on their pogo sticks) to freestyle motocross (riders doing the same, only on their motorbikes).
The XPGO Stunt Team is pretty incredible, and it’ll be their first time in the Augusta area.
“They’re bringing this high-jump bar that goes up to nine or 10 feet, and they’ll be jumping over that,” said Shane Thompson, son of Donnie Thompson and the person who scours the internet to find the coolest performers to organize into Thunder Over Evans. “And then they’re gonna bring out one of Andy Jones’ cars, and they’re gonna be jumping over that. They also do a backflip contest to see how many backflips they can do against one another.”
Members of the team have been recognized as the best in the world by Guinness World Records 13 times. Some of those records include highest jump (11 feet, 1/2 inch), most consecutive cars jumped over (3 cars), and most backflips in a row (18). Not quite impressed? One member of the team has also done the most no-handed backflips in a row (nine). With more than 10,000 live performances in 23 countries behind them, this group is made up of true pogo stick experts. (You probably never knew that was a thing.)
The team will be performing three, 25-minute shows throughout the day. To see the kind of amazing stuff you’ll get the chance to witness if you see them in person, visit xpogo.com.
Also new this year are some bicycle motocross (BMX) pros, including X Games medalist Rob Nolli. The BMX area will be set up in the same place as the motorized, freestyle motocross (FMX), so you’ll see guys doing all kinds of tricks on all kinds of bikes, all at once.
“So last year, we had this guy called Geoff Gaskin (with FMX),” Thompson said. “He’s one of the few riders in the world who’ll do a front flip on a motorcycle. Backflips are pretty common these days, but front flips are different. They have to bring a different ramp that has a kick plate in it that’ll punch the back tire as they ride, and it throws them forward. It’s very dangerous to do a front flip.”
Because of the danger, the front flip is planned to be only during the final BMX/FMX show, which is scheduled for 6:15. If you see any of these shows, that’s definitely the one to try to be at. But at any of the shows, you’ll see these riders going like 40 feet into the air.
Crowd favorites that are back this year are the Lumberjack Show, Skydive Drop-In, the Kid Zone and Obstacle Course — and, of course, the biggest fireworks show around (it starts at 9:15 p.m.) There are so many explosions happening in the air at once, it’s almost scary… and it grows bigger every year. Thunder Over Evans organizers suggest wearing sunglasses. Seriously.
The Lumberjack Show, as weird as it sounds, is a must-see. The Wisconsin-based Timberworks “Olympics of the Forest” will bring a log-rolling pool, speed pole climbing, axe throwing, chopping and more.
The Skydive Drop-In involves a multi-jumper parachute team dropping right into the middle of the park with smoke and flags, in front of the Lady A amphitheater.
And there’ll be inflatables, inflatables, inflatables. The Kid Zone has been expanded this year, with an added Toddler Zone, and more than 20 inflatables for the kids to get their jumps on. Adults aren’t left out, either — y’all can run a 128-foot inflatable course, taking on friends and members of the military. Prizes will be given out for the top three times, so get your running legs ready.
Other entertainment includes Florida band The Royals, performing all kinds of popular hits for every age group, and kickboxing events with 15 International Kickboxing Federation fights lined up, facilitated by Strike Force MMA.
Amid all this excitement, there also are some more solemnly important things going on. One of those is the swearing in of new recruits, who go directly to basic training after taking the oath.
“The general comes out and does a speaking point where he 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.”
Also at the event are military displays including vehicles, demonstrations and exhibits that are a mix of educational and entertaining. And historic exhibits show displays of artifacts from World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War, including uniforms, Vietnam firebase, a bunker, vehicles, weapons and veterans who know all about them. And the area’s very own 282nd Army Band, Detachment 1, will give a 45-minute concert in the afternoon.
Thousands of people show up to Thunder Over Evans, and for good reason. It’s a great way for the military and civilians in the area to come together. And in case you’re wondering, parking’s going to be about the same as usual… meaning, people kind of park all over the area. The last couple of years when there were helicopter rides, people couldn’t use half the parking area, so this year is no different.
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.’”
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 has 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.”
Thunder Over Evans
Evans Towne Center Park
11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Saturday, May 19
Free. Visit thunderoveraugusta.com.