The ART of Country:
The Ultra Saloon
Satisfying the Country Bar's Diverse Audience with LEDs
Lighting Dialogue by Jack Kelly | Photography by Jack Kelly
June 2009 | The Country Club of Augusta | Augusta GA
NEW Lighting Equipment
143 Color Kinetics iColor Cove
7 Color Kinetics PDS-150e
18 Chauvet 200B
23 Chauvet Rain64
5 Chauvet ColorStrip
4 Chauvet Double Derby
2 Chauvet Scorpian RGX
Martin Light Jockey
Existing Lighting Equipment
8 Elation Power Wash
14 Elation Power Spot
The age of the purist is fading.
When I think of Country, everything from electronica to hip-hop
from folk to rock enters into the equation. While creating something
fresh, the purist is up against the great artist of the past- Johnny
Cash, Miles Davis, Frank Lloyd Wright, just to name a few. Taking
on the greats head to head is a daunting insurmountable dream. To
achieve notoriety as a purist, the artist must be significantly
better or they will get written off as a talented carbon copy. This
conundrum has pushed the creative mind to fuse concepts and styles
to create new forms.
The difficulty is, while creating something new
the core elements of the style must remain otherwise the identity
of the design is lost. In other words, if you are designing a country
bar, the clients must still see a country bar when the design is
complete or they will go find another country bar. The Country Club
of Augusta is a fusion venue starting with line dancing early in
the evening continuing with live country centered rock finishing
with full blown dance club in the early morning. Rikki T, their
resident DJ, approached me at Night Club and Bar in Vegas wanting
an easy-to-use lighting controller to replace their current unit
as well as suggestions for an improved stage washes. He needed something
he could intuitively modify on the fly. I introduced him to Martin
Light Jockey and visited the venue to suggest improvements for the
The owner of the Country Club has
many successful ventures in Augusta. Well respected in the community
and among his staff, he has consistently set the standard for marketing
and entertainment. Starting with stage improvements, he asks if
I would make suggestions for the entire space.
Analyzing the space, I loved the feel. The Country
Club captures the heart of country. Rough cut wood covers all vertical
surfaces. The bar design is in the form of traditional beach front
shacks as romanticized in the Buffett version of the country/beach
style. The dance floor is the lowest space in the building with
VIP zones at different levels throughout the space. The levels make
great gathering spaces for connecting friends as well as providing
great visibility throughout the building to watch the party. Very
well designed and constructed, Eye Dialogue’s task was to
take them to the next evolution of country, the Ultra Saloon.
The Ultra Saloon concept was the
natural cultural evolution as the popularity of the Ultra Lounge
exploded at the turn of the millennia. The light brown of pine and
other common construction mediums is a great reflector for lighting.
In club culture, venues have to constantly reinvent their format
through entertainment choices, events, and interior design or they
will lose their client base to the new venues which pop up regularly
in metropolitan markets. The simple addition of lighting can transform
a space without costly construction upgrades. Many venues, looking
to tap into the new youth of country, began exploring technology
centered improvements for their space. The more progressive lighting
systems keep the youth interested, discouraging their migration
to electronic dance halls and top 40 clubs. However, the critics
and traditionalist dislike the dark seedy nature of the drug culture
clientele attached to dance club style design preferring the friendly
and more illuminated style of tradition Country venues. The LED
revolution has provided a dynamic visual display through color transitions,
satisfying the more demanding technology generation and providing
adequate illumination for the conversational style of traditional
Removing the neons is the first move and also
a scary one. In most bars, much of the ambient light comes from
neons. Neons bring attention to alcohol branding which is good.
Many times it also directs the client’s attention away from
the bar to the wall which is less desirable. Moving away from equal
unintentional lighting, a wise designer will use light to control
the clients focus increasing visibility of entertainment and sales,
and decreasing distractions. Three elements in every entertainment
venue need to be lit. First and most obvious is the stage. What
is point of having performers if no one can see them? The performers
should be the most identifiable person in the room. Second is the
bar. Many venues spend a fortune on furniture and details but neglect
the only post-cover form of income. The bar should always be the
most dynamic architectural element in the building. The last space
is the dance floor. Many times I hear the dancers want this or that.
I immediately point out; lighting is for the voyeurs not the dancers.
No one likes lights in their eyes. It’s annoying. But most
dancers want everyone to see how good they are or how well they
are dressed, otherwise they would dance in the privacy of their
own home or the dark corner of the room. The people watchers want
to see everyone interesting but don’t want to be seen. This
doesn’t mean dark and light this means light and more light.
Treat the dance floor like a stage and all parties go satisfied.
For the fixture choice in the current
market, price is everything. B-Stock and Quality substitutions are
the par. In recent years, Chauvet has sky rocketed into the lighting
market with their touring quality LED Colorado fixtures. Following
suit, they have satisfied the LED wash customer base with their
entry level LEDsplash Jr ($80) all the way to their LED canon, the
Colorado 2 ($1900). We choose to use a combination of mid-level
lines the LEDrain and their most popular fixture the COLORstrip.
The 23 narrow beams of the LEDrain provided the dynamic definition
we needed for the stage wash. The front truss was located less than
three feet horizontally from the edge of stage. The COLORstrips
lined the front truss washing the stage edge. Finishing the stage
4 Elation Moving Spots lined the back of stage creating dynamic
beam effects through the stage and into the crowd. 2 Elation Moving
Washes we used for back lights on the band and the final two were
placed on the sides to cross wash the musicians.
The hardest task was to raise the truss. Due to HVAC and sprinkler
locations the previous company decided to rig the truss at the
HVAC/sprinkler height. This decision put the fixtures around 9
feet above stage, making the front section of the truss fixtures
like singing to a freight train. Eliminating one section of the
truss, we were able to get it on the inside of the HVAC. We had
to dismantle the truss and reassemble it above the sprinkler system.
The job took longer than anticipated but was well worth the sacrifice.
An extra 2 feet of height made a huge difference. The stage visibly
opened up and the additional height gave the lighting greater
beam presence and stage effect.
The major complaint concerning the dance floor was no one could
see the dancers unless they were on the half closest to the stage.
Spaced evenly around the dance floor, the wide beam angle and
affordability of the Chauvet 200Bs provided good room coverage
with adequate illumination. To further address future dance floor
showcases, 4 moving washes were placed near each corner of the
dance floor. Every space of the dance floor except the outer extremes
now had sufficient front lighting for the audience. Concerning
the outer extremes, by leaving the edges dark, wall flowers and
reluctant dancers can gradually work their way to the dance floor.
It is a very natural way to progress into the party. More dancers
mean more to watch. More to watch means more to drink. More money
means more projects for Eye Dialogue.
To deal with the hard edge fixtures,
I wanted to add some beam crossing. By crossing the beam effects,
the perception of the dance floor becomes a 3 dimensional box. The
guests no longer need to look for the definitions on the floor.
The easier the dance floor is to define the less the guest hesitates
which means more dancers… more voyeurs… more drinks.
The 8 Elation moving spots in the center create a nice center piece
which was already present. We shifted the truss to get the lights
in line with the room. We kept them in the center because the beam
effects were in a great location to light the stage as well as rock
the dance floor. For the beam crossing, 4 Double Derby X’s
were positioned on the 4 corners of the dance floor, providing an
adequate fill to create a dynamic atmosphere and dance floor definition.
The biggest change to the space was adding the
lighting to the bars. Until this point everything we have done is
common for entertainment venues. The Wow factor was the lighting
addition to the bars. We talked about lighting everything in the
room during some point of the conversation but of course budget
was a concern. The final decision led us to lighting the vertical
surfaces on all the bars. Taking the attention from the neons scattered
around the room and redirecting it to the architecture, we emphasized
what was already present. The idea is not to apologize for what
you lack, but complimented what you have. The concept is a common
suggestion in fashion but sometimes over looked by owners when designing
their venue. For example, if your fantasy super model walks in the
room with 20 other women how many women came in the door? The honest
answer is always one! By creating impact features, everything else
gets ignored. When looking through the room now the emphasis goes
to the core elements: the stage, the dancers, and the alcohol. Now
no matter how drunk you are the bars are easy to find. Just follow
the light to the end of the tunnel.
For the savvy lighting reader, “yes”
light jockey can only fit 100 fixtures we only had 2 universes aka
one light jockey dongle. Getting around the limitations of Light
jockey is simple. Use the “10 LED” fixture profile which
only counts as one fixture, increasing your total number LED fixtures
to 1000 (however not exceeding 2024 address’s aka 670). The
next issue was dealing with the number of addresses required to
put every fixture on a different channel. The total came to 1056,
just over the 1024 ceiling. We compromised the 3 small bars. Putting
two fixtures on each address we were able to reduce the total number
of addresses within 2 universes.
The Country Bar of Augusta has stayed true to
its country roots and has also gained relevance in the modern entertainment
palette. Using styles borrowed from the ultra lounge, a contemporary-traditional
compromise has achieved a new life without isolating its older clientele.
Taking the focus from the neon walls to the bars, stage, and dance
floor, the guest will be less distracted, more entertained, and
more likely to have one more drink before they leave.