In truth, Portland's finest underground rocket wrangler would rather spark the skies outside our city's limits. Since moving from the Bronx several years ago, Brutha's Pyro impresario Rodney Scott loves every aspect of his adopted home except those draconian local ordinances that prevent his vision's fullest flowering.
"Fireworks are exciting," he says. "Unfortunately, Oregonians are not."
If possible, his clients are advised to hold their events in the more legally forgiving environs north of the state line. For Scott's private annual showcase, he invites friends and family to the Vancouver, Wash., property of a former co-worker. "She lets me go to her neighborhood every year and blow it up."
For Scott, the preparation begins hours before the show. "We fuse everything together and wait until dark," he says. "It's kinda like cooking. You gotta cut the onions, peel the potatoes, boil the noodles, and then you can actually prepare your meal. Same with fireworks. The setup's the hard part. The fun comes from lighting 'em."
Though guests may notice Scott only as he surveys the stance of the crowd and adjusts directions accordingly, his real work begins far earlier. The successful contract pyrotechnician must be combination wedding planner, personal shopper and magician, and he's learned the importance of detailing each client's available budget and preferred speed of detonation: "Do you want to see them blow up one at a time, or do you want sky puke?"
While questions about Scott's own preferences are deflected with a practiced resignation common to private chefs and yacht captains, a few predilections become clear. He raves about Neon Super Shells' midflight color change. He doesn't care for fireworks set to music—too dependent on computer sequencing and dismissive of the all-important boom. And he actively despises fireworks set to "Firework."
"Katy Perry," he says, "is hated throughout the industry."
Though he appreciates the technical artistry a coherent barrage requires, he's no fan of the rapid bursts he calls "sky puke." "I like slowly building to a crescendo," he says. "That way, you experience every firework, you see the beauty of each growing faster and louder and brighter. That's what I prefer."
From lighting mortar tubes on milk crates to remotely choreographing near-simultaneous bursts and breaks across the sky, Scott's career path has followed a similar trajectory, but he'll have to leave the underground for a truly grand finale. Access to the more hazardous entertainment pyrotechnics requires an federal permit—wholly separate from his state license, which he does have—and a federally sanctioned storage magazine, which necessitates joining up with a professional display company.
Until then, he's taking what jobs come around and striving to change the state's mind about fireworks one Oregonian at a time. "The first one I converted was my wife," said Scott. "She was not into fireworks."