As the Louisville skyline illuminates with the boom of fireworks and signature soundtrack of music, Louisvillians look forward for the annual tradition of Thunder over Louisville. While this year’s 25th anniversary marks a milestone in the tradition and the return of the Blue Angels, it also marks a special occasion for Mandie Clark, who is the new director of Thunder over Louisville. The job of director is a big one, coordinating the timing of the show, the timing of the planes, the announcer, the barges, and the people at the command center.
Mandie sat down with Louisville.com and talked about her new job, her love for Thunder, and what is was like to be handed this position.
“Tim Creed (the past director of Thunder over Louisville) is my dad, and I grew up around thunder over Louisville. It started with my first Thunder, and after that, I told everyone my dream job was Thunder over Louisville,” said Mandie. Mandie graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2007 from a joint program where she earned her M.B.A. and Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. After that she started working for Thunder over Louisville as the audio engineer and chief engineer in 2011 of the landmark Louisville show. Then, this Christmas Mandie was surprised with a dream come true, her dream job as director of Thunder over Louisville.
What does the tradition of Thunder over Louisville mean to you?
Mandie: Its changed over the years, what I really love is the fact that it is a community event and a lot of people look forward to it. People live for it, and the airshow, and the fireworks, and to hear those kinds of stories, those kinds of people who are so ecstatic about what they saw at Thunder is what I love.
Of course, it’s a lot of work, but everything we do is worth it. To have such great people to work with all throughout the year, it all comes together sometimes we have issues weather and curveballs happen the day of, but is all does come together.
What was it like growing up with your dad as the director of Thunder over Louisville?
Mandie: Well, We always had good seats. (said laughing) It was very cool. It was the time of the year that I always looked forward to. I love how the community gets together and celebrates. I love how you get to know everybody that works on the show. I grew up with them, and now getting the younger generation coming and getting excited about it.
How do you hope to grow Thunder as the new director?
Mandie: That’s a great question, honestly haven’t thought about that yet. I, definitely, think growing the event as a group works for it, transferring it from one generation to another. Everybody loves the event so much, sometimes it’s hard for newcomers coming to work on it. I was lucky enough I wasn’t considering a newcomer because I grew up with Thunder. My biggest goal would be that I hope 25 years down the road everybody still wants to see Thunder over Louisville and is still excited about it. It would be cool to keep that tradition alive.
What does this year’s theme of "Throwback Thunder" mean to you?
Mandie: For me personally, it’s a lot about doing this with my dad. It’s an honor to me for him to hand over the director position. It took me aback that I had done so well, and he wanted me to have that role. When he told me, he said, “You did all the work, you should at least get the credit.”
It’s pretty emotional for me this year. The memories I have of Thunder are wonderful, and I hope my child has the same memories as he grows up. I want that for him.
How did your dad hand over the position to you?
Mandie: I was completely shocked when he did it. He apparently had planned it since the last Thunder. For Christmas this year in front of all of our family, he gave me a jacket that says director on the back of it. It was so special, and he wanted to give it to me in front of them.
It was also very overwhelming for me, and I was so excited. And to see my family there, and my mom was crying. It was an awesome feeling.
So was your family in on the surprise with your dad?
Mandie: Yes, and I had no idea! And they did a really good job of hiding it (said laughing) because I talk to my mom and aunt almost everyday, and they had known for a couple months. They hid it very well.
The 2014 Thunder over Louisville will be your 7th Thunder to work on. What’s your favorite part of producing Thunder over Louisville?
Mandie: The day of Thunder has to be my favorite. We spend a week before setting up and setting up what will be the air tower and the audio up and down the river.
The day of Thunder is a lot of adrenaline. It’s a very busy day. We coordinate all the music with what’s going on the air, and as tedious as it sounds, it’s cool to see it all come together at the show. After the fireworks are done, everyone who worked on the show together is so happy, and we celebrate together.
What’s your first memory of Thunder over Louisville?
Mandie: My first memory of Thunder was actually the very first Thunder at Cardinal Stadium, which was 24 years ago. I remember the producer and my dad were sitting in the press box, and they took me to the command center where I got to play there for a while.
My grandmother says that when I left that day, it was the first time I said I wanted to work at Thunder. I remember sitting on blankets in the cold spring days watching the fireworks. For us, it was a family event where we invite all our friends and get together.
If you didn’t work for Thunder over Louisville, what would you do?
Mandie: It would probably be working at Disney world, like an engineer for one of the Disney parks. Disney calls it Imagineering.
Can you give Louisville.com a sneak peek of what we can expect at Thunder over Louisville this year?
Mandie: I actually don’t know a whole lot more than everyone else does (said laughing). I have heard the soundtrack for this year. It’s a very cool compilation of the past 24 years, and the finale will be something exciting.
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