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    The Shift

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    Once a year, for a week in April, Galt House employees haul the mattresses and linens out of a suite on the 24th floor of the hotel’s west tower and transform the space into the Thunder Over Louisville command center. Wires, monitors and headsets replace nightstands and pillows. “I’ve never seen the room as a suite,” Thunder director Mandie Creed says. “I’ve only seen it as the command center, so it would throw me off if I walked in (while it was a room).”

    From her perch she can see the whole stretch of Waterfront Park, watching the patches of green slowly disappear as the crowd begins to swell in the lead-up to the 30-minute fireworks display. Well, she can see it if she gets a chance to pay attention. “The day of the show is a lot of adrenaline,” she says. She moves into the Galt House the Thursday before the Saturday show (April 13 this year). That Friday, she manages a few hours of sleep before stepping into the command center around 5 or 6 in the morning for an hour or two of quiet time to finalize the schedule. Throughout the day, she communicates with technicians on the barges and bridges, with pilots in the airshow. Even when things go wrong — like the year the command center lost contact with technicians, or the time a computer glitch caused an 18-minute delay — the job exhilarates. “I hope it continues for another 30 years,” Creed says.

    The 37-year-old is now in her sixth year as director (she started as an audio engineer in 2008), though her relationship to the event began long before that. Her father, Tim, co-created Thunder three decades ago as a way to kick off the Derby season. (Outside her Thunder responsibilities, Creed works as a lead engineer with her father’s company, Communications Electronic Design, to create audio work for places such as the Kentucky Derby Museum or the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience.) Creed has been a presence at Thunder since she was a girl, watching the fireworks from a suite eight floors below the command center or hanging out with Dad up top. “There are pictures out there of me in the command center when I was my son’s age, seven or eight years old,” she says.

    On Christmas morning when she was 30, Creed’s father handed her a wrapped box. Inside was a navy-blue jacket with the Thunder logo stitched alongside her call sign — “Junior.” (Her son’s jacket says “Junior Junior.”) On the back of her jacket: “Director.” “His first time directing the show, he was 31,” she says. “He told me that he was turning it over to me because he wanted my first year to be when I was 31. So he was kind of handing over the torch.”

    This originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline "Thunder Wizard." To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Jessica Ebelhar,

    Jennifer Kiefer's picture

    About Jennifer Kiefer

    Germantown transplant. Louisville native.

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