Just a week ago, Solomon Group employees were hard at work in their vast warehouse on Jefferson Highway. The smell of sawdust and paint permeated the air as a woman purposefully pushed a steel platform truck across the concrete floor and two men in welding helmets connected chunks of hot metal. The hustle and bustle resembled a typical day at the company’s production and scenic fabrication facility.
But in the middle of the action, a 6-foot-tall, 102-pound fleur de lis made of aluminum and acrylic rested on a wooden platform. During the final seconds of 2017, the carefully constructed mechanism will descend from JAX Brewery, illuminated by colorful LED lights and a burst of fireworks.
“Because it's the city’s 300th anniversary, we're really going to amp it up,” said Gary Solomon Jr., the president and co-founder of the Solomon Group, an entertainment and design production firm. “We're adding pyrotechnics, lighting and potentially a projection component to it.”
For the second year in a row, the midnight drop will air live on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve celebration with Ryan Seacrest, which is based in New York City’s Time Square and broadcast on ABC (WGNO-TV).
“It's the only other 'ball drop,' other than (the one) in New York City, that they've ever done in the 45 years of the show,” Solomon said . “We're doing this New Orleans-style, but trying to make it look as beautiful on television as it is in real life.”
While the fleur de lis is lowered, a “300” display, propped on a barge floating in the Mississippi River, will blaze with small, flare-like sparklers.
Then, the Symphony in the Sky fireworks show will erupt over the rippling river waters, creating floral shapes in the dark sky.
The presentation is sponsored by New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., Allstate Sugar Bowl, The Berger Company, French Quarter Festivals Inc. and the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, along with community sponsors.
The excitement happens during the Allstate Fan Fest, leading up to the 2018 Sugar Bowl. Festivities for the daylong, French Quarter-based extravaganza also include pep rallies and live music from Imagine Dragons and Walk The Moon.
Who got the baby?
The Solomon Group designed the fleur de lis for the 2016 New Year’s Eve celebration. It was previously created by Crescent City Countdown Club — a nonprofit organization that formed the year after Hurricane Katrina, with the purpose of preserving traditional New Year's Eve festivities in the French Quarter. The club's ability to secure nearly 25 sponsors annually has allowed it to keep growing.
Erskine Terry designed the fleur de lis for the 2006 countdown to midnight, but it was used every year afterward, up until 2016.
“We felt that the fleur de lis was a badge of courage and symbol of our city,” said Debbie Bresler, coordinator of Crescent City Countdown Club.
The work of art was constructed with a weather-treated cloth, stretched over a plywood frame and embellished with shiny aluminum ribbons and LED lights.
The fleur de lis also projected columns of silver sparks of fire during its descent. Plumes of “gold stars” shot from below.
Meanwhile, Baby New Year — a chubby, papier-mâché tot wearing only a diaper — stood with his arms up in the air, on the rooftop of JAX Brewery. After the New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl XLIV, Baby New Year wore a Saints helmet. And after a disappointing Saints season, the baby’s artists gave him a mop of yellow hair to cover up the football helmet, said Liz Williams, president of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. This Central City museum has housed the baby since his retirement, after the New Year’s Eve of 2015.
“When we got him, he had a lot of hair. Much more hair than any other baby would have,” Williams said.
Baby New Year became part of an exhibit depicting traditional New Orleans foods, enjoyed on holidays. He was later painted gold to resemble a giant king cake baby.
“Now, we have it decorated for Mardi Gras,” Williams said. “Beads dangle from his outstretched fingers, and we have it surrounded by all kinds of Mardi Gras paraphernalia.”
Making it count
Solomon Group began planning for the countdown to 2018 nearly a year ago, Solomon said.
“This is our second chance,” he said. “We can make some refinements that will only make it better.”
On Sunday night, Solomon’s team will be onsite, collaborating with Dick Clark Productions’ directors and producers.
“It's a lot of work and planning for that 30-second drop to midnight, but the impact is huge,” Solomon said. “There's a national audience that sees New Orleans as the destination for New Year’s Eve, for the second time around.”