According to the National Weather Service, El Paso has received 5.1 inches of rain since January 1, 2021, with 4.1 of that falling since June 1. Summer weather can be wet and wild, albeit briefly, in West Texas.
On a day made for a stage, Mother Nature stole the finale with a blustery pop-up thunderstorm that prematurely ended Pop Goes the Fort, the 10th annual Independence Day celebration, at Fort Bliss Texas, July 4, 2021.
Prior to the late-evening gust that prompted an early, yet safe exit for the El Paso Symphony Orchestra, who was in the middle of their performance, and a postponement of fireworks, Bliss Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation put on a fun-filled night for Soldiers, families, and guests.
In addition to the spacing of seated families throughout many areas of the park, FMWR also used a ticketing system that permitted approximately 5,000 guests to Biggs Park on east Bliss. In previous years, Pop Goes the Fort has welcomed four times that amount of guests to Biggs to celebrate America.
As guests of Team Bliss, the EPSO offered a variety of styles of music, and also highlighted vocalist and El Pasoan Eli Zamora, who featured on television singing competition “The Voice” in 2020. The EPSO’s Independence Day performance, an annual staple on the Fort Bliss calendar, was their first in 17 months due to Covid-19.
In addition to the EPSO, Iron Will, the 1st Armored Division Band’s rock ensemble, braved the late-day summer heat and opened up with contemporary songs, as well as summer anthems. Food trucks packed into Biggs Park to offer something for every pallet with authentic local Borderland fare, as well as international street food and hamburgers and hot dogs.
Just as the crowd prepared to end the night with a fireworks show July 4, that wild West Texas weather rolled in and fireworks were held under wraps due to safety concerns–but it didn’t end there.
Bliss FMWR’s extensive social media following allowed for them to stay connected with guests as they quickly charted what to do with the fireworks display, and within 90 minutes of the cancelled display, FMWR had connected with many of the night’s vendors and performers, getting them to agree to come back for a second evening, this time with a full fireworks finale, July 5.
Michele Wiernicki, the Bliss FMWR marketing director, said with all of the adversity FMWR staff members and services have faced during the Covid-19 pandemic, and even just the challenge of scheduling fireworks in between rolling summer storms, the success of Pop Goes the Fort was a testament of the can-do attitude of Bliss FMWR.
“We’re just happy to be back,” said Wiernicki. “This is our passion–Soldier and family events here at Bliss. There have been a lot of hard pills to swallow in the last year-and-a-half to not let us do our jobs, so to see ten faces out in the crowd would have made us smile, but 5,000 is a home run.”
In his final days in command, backstage before the winds came July 4, Col. Stu James, then the Bliss garrison commander, said he was glad to spend one of his final days in command at a summer staple like Pop Goes the Fort celebrating freedom earned by so many in attendance.
“We’re here with those who are going to guarantee our independence going forward,” he said. “They’re putting their lives on the line–I can’t think of a better place to be on the Fourth of July than here.”