It’s not paints, pencils or pastels Phil Grucci uses.
Yet the night sky becomes his canvas as explosions fill the air coloring it in bursts of red, white, blue and any other combination he desires.
Like a master chef slaving tirelessly in the kitchen preparing a meal that will be consumed in mere minutes, Grucci, the president and CEO of Fireworks by Grucci, spends countless hours with his staff of pyrotechnicians on a project that lasts 10, maybe 20, minutes.
Though the art is short-lived, he says the feeling leaves him elevated as high as the explosions he sets off.
“It’s exciting and addictive,” he says. “You finish one show and you get such a high you can’t wait to start working on the next one. You got to get that high again.”
About 9 p.m. Friday, Fireworks by Grucci will have that high again as another Fourth of July show sounds off throughout the valley.
Displays are planned at Red Rock Resort, Green Valley Ranch, The Linq, the Stratosphere and Caesars Palace.
Life as a fireworks artist is in Grucci’s blood, reaching back five generations to his great-great-grandfather Angelo Lanzetta.
It was 1850 in southern Italy when he started in the pyrotechnic industry. It was much different from today, Grucci says.
“It was more so about the aspect of design than it was about entertainment,” he says.
Instead of hundreds or thousands of shells launched into the sky, a typical demonstration was just one shell.
“He would compete against other (pyrotechnicians),” Grucci says.
When Lanzetta immigrated from Italy to the United States in the late 1880s, he brought with him the secrets and success of the industry.
The next generation, Lanzetta’s son Anthony, was more innovative with the family business.
In the late ’30s and early ’40s, right after the Great Depression and at the beginning of World War II, the company transitioned to make training devices for the military.
“It would have the loud bang of a grenade but no shrapnel,” he says.
Now, Grucci heads the company as part of the fifth generation while the sixth generation is already working for the company preparing to take over the reins.
With each new family member, the company was able to grow and thrive, slowly transitioning to become the entertainment legend it is today.
“Now we are 100 percent fireworks,” Grucci says.
Its displays have been seen all over the world, from the opening of Wynn Macau to the beginning ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in China.
While offering shows, the company also has entered competitions trying to prove it is the best.
In 1979, it was the first American family to win the Gold Medal at the Monte Carlo International Fireworks Festival.
“It’s like the Olympics of the fireworks community,” Grucci says.
Guinness World Records recently announced Fireworks by Grucci took the world record for largest fireworks display from its 2013 New Year’s Eve display in Dubai: It had 479,651 choreographed effects.
The company has been invited to put on displays at events from presidential inaugurations to casino openings.
Along the way, Fireworks by Grucci landed in Las Vegas — it has a local facility — to provide casino openings, implosions, holiday celebrations and anniversaries during nearly four decades.
It has participated in the grand openings of Excalibur, New York-New York and The Venetian and the implosions of the Hacienda, the Stardust and the Dunes.
Even as Las Vegas’ boom era came to a close with fewer hotel properties opening, there were still opportunities in the city — let alone nationally — for Fireworks by Grucci to operate.
“There wasn’t much of a lull for us,” Grucci says. “There was still always something going on whether it was an anniversary or something else.”
The company started doing special events and holidays such as New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July.
Independence Day is one of the family’s favorites.
“Whether you are 8 or 90, most people react the same way when they see fireworks,” he says. “It’s such a rewarding experience to watch.”
He adds that fireworks on the Fourth of July have the ability to bond people.
“Fourth of July is one of the few remaining family holidays,” Grucci says. “It is intended to draw the family together.”
On Friday, it will be launching more than 20 displays nationwide — five are in Las Vegas.
This year will be the first time it plans to do the celebration at The Linq.
Fireworks will also be seen at two Station Casinos properties, which have been in partnership with the company for Fourth of July celebrations for the past eight years.
Working with casinos to put on the show isn’t a simple process.
“Everyone just sees the 10-minute show and doesn’t realize it takes a year of planning,” says Lori Nelson, vice president of corporate communications for Station Casinos.
For this year’s show, Nelson says the process started nearly right after the last show.
“This year has been interesting because we had to relocate the fireworks launching pad for the show,” she notes.
While the fireworks will still be shown from Red Rock Resort and Green Valley Ranch, the launching pads previously used for the shows had to be changed because of new construction projects that are developing in the surrounding area.
“We want to make sure it’s still a good viewing area but also that it’s safe,” Nelson says. “It requires a lot of risk assessment.”
Grucci has a partnership with the Clark County Fire Department to ensure displays are up to safety standards.
After finding a location to launch comes the fun part — designing the show.
Special themes, holidays and what kind of crowd is expected are all elements taken into consideration as shells are designed.
“It’s like designing a dance routine in the sky,” Grucci says. “Sometimes it’s more eloquent and sometimes it’s more aggressive.”
Station Casinos, like many other places sponsoring a show, also works in the design process providing ideas for colors and designs.
“Like when we launched our ‘We Love Locals’ campaign, we had them design a big shell that would have a heart,” Nelson says.
The fireworks are choreographed to a set list of 11 songs that include “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams, “Firework” by Katy Perry, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, “All You Need is Love” by The Beatles and, of course, “God Bless The USA” by Lee Greenwood.
“There is something for everyone,” Nelson says. “People can actually tune in and listen to the music on the radio.”
Song selections change annually.
Grucci has song lists for all his displays.
“They usually include songs that are popular that year,” he says.
About four days before the event, Grucci pyrotechnicians set up the show.
“It will take about 500 man hours,” Nelson says.
And all people will see is the final product.
“Then it’s time to start planning the next show,” Grucci adds.
Contact reporter Michael Lyle at email@example.com or 702-387-5201. Follow @mjlyle on Twitter.