Providing the Boom

Bennie Campbell sometimes gets complaints when he fires his cannons at home. But he’s called on a lot to lend an extra blast for July 4th and New Year’s Eve celebrations. Photo by Tim Robison

During the climactic bombardment of Tchaikovsky’s classic “1812 Overture,” the intense thunder of cannons can be heard. And when this piece is performed on July 4th at the close of Brevard Music Festival’s annual Patriotic Pops concert, Bennie Campbell will be there to provide the boom.

The Upstate South Carolina resident has worked with the festival for many years to make sure the cannons hit their mark. He also helps with the “1812 Overture” performance at Furman University, using an electric charge to nail his cues. Campbell doesn’t just use his big guns for musical performances, though; he’s also helped at businesses’ grand openings and even given the recently departed their last wish: being cannon-shot into immortality.

How did you get started with cannons?
I got started in 1973. I wanted me a cannon and I found out at that time there was a gentleman in Greenville [SC] who was building a cannon and his name was Charlie Crenshaw. I went and talked to him and he said that we could build a cannon. It started from there.

Why did you want one?
There’s just something about it. When we were kids we went down to Charleston to the Battery and our daddy would sit us up on the barrel of those [Civil War] cannons to take pictures. There was just something that clicked in me then.

How many cannons do you have?
At last count, it was 57. I’ve got one that is an original line-throwing gun from the World War II era. It shot a bolt from one ship to another across the bow so you could run a cable across and pass supplies back and forth. The others are all replicas. I’ve got cannons so small they can fit in your hand to some that are big enough to shoot bowling balls.

Where do you keep them all? 
Here at home. It’s getting too grown up here to shoot them. I always get complaints and people know who is doing it. They expect it in July and on New Year’s, though.

What about safety?
It’s always my first concern. I’m always a good distance away from the crowd. I’ve never, knock on wood, had a mishap. We take our time loading these cannons and make sure everything is the way it should be before anything goes off.

Who are your biggest fans?
Kids and older adults. But it makes everybody smile.

The Pendergrast Family Patriotic Pops concert, featuring Brevard Symphonic Winds and the Brevard Concert Orchestra, happens Tuesday, July 4, 2pm at Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium at Brevard College. Tickets range from $15-$57. For more information, see brevardmusic.org.

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