Lights in Country Nights
Designing the 50th Anniversary for Quail Hollow
Visual Dialogue by Jack Kelly | Photography by Jack Kelly
Quail Hollow Country Club | Charlotte NC
Partners: John Lupton - Elements
139,200 Incadescent White String Lights (1392 Boxes of 100)
32 Chauvet COLORdash Par
8 Chauvet Colorado 3
50 Elation Opti-30
4 Elation DP-415
1 Elation Stage Setter
1 Martin Light Jockey
1 Global Truss 5m Circle
4 Global Truss Chain Hoist
10 Swivilier Dual 8" Extension
30 Swivilier Single 8" Extension
100 Accu Cable Cube Taps
80 Accu Cable 10' Power Cables
40 Accu Cable 25' Power Cables
20 Accu Cable 50' Power Cables
Jack Kelly- Designer
Eric Winkenorder- Design Consultant
Brian Barker- Team Leader
Jesse Poreca- Team Leader
Stephen Rogers- Lead Technician
John Lowder- Lead Technician
Alex Miano- Technician
Donald Harris- Technician
Kenneth Owens- Technician
Rauben Behrands- Technician
Ryan Barringer- Technician
Rory Holder- Technician
Nathan Nicholson- Technician
Llyod Puckett- Technician
Looking for 140,000 twinkle lights in May with 25 days notice
was a greater challenge than I had anticipated. My usual source
needs 4 weeks to manufacture and shipping from China is very expensive
unless it is sent by boat. I googled “Christmas lights”
and called every major retailer in the US and Canada. Fifty phone
calls later, I learned that everyone gets their Christmas shipments
in June. No one had enough matching lights. My hands started to
sweat and my brain was shutting down. This will be the biggest
private party we do this year and failure would be political suicide
when you are dealing with one of Charlotte’s most respected
families. I called my friends that work for other lighting companies
and ask if they had any ideas. Every one of them said they would
have called me. CRAP! One day, two days, three days passed. I
am getting returned phone calls every day with the same responses.
In a moment of brilliance, I looked for other production companies.
I googled “party rentals” and anything else I could
imagine. Logging in almost 20 hours on the phone, I got a break.
A rental house had over 180,000 lights left over from Christmas.
Purchasing sideways, I conquered the first challenge of the Quail
Hollow 50th Anniversary Party.
The Wachovia Championship ended 4 days before the 50th Anniversary
Party for Quail Hollow. We were asked to start on Monday and be
ready for a light check on Wednesday. Load out for the Championship
in the past was two weeks long. They needed to be out by Wednesday.
The pressure was on. Parking schedules, load in, load out, lift
drops, and time tables needed to be coordinated between two completely
different teams and a plethora of venders. Thank God I was not
the event planner. Plus on Monday, God scheduled a thunderstorm.
The steady flow of rain turned out to be a blessing. Everyone
but us took the afternoon off preferring to work at night without
rain. My team is accustomed to any conditions and all demands.
Without skipping a beat, we threw on ponchos and pressed forward.
Without any disruptions, we were able to exceed our scheduled
goals for the day. The storm assured our work was uninterrupted.
The event designer, John Lupton,
is my favorite designer in the south. His clear communication with
me was key to the success of this event. The taste was traditional.
Money was no object. No was not an option. I have not had the opportunity
to work with someone who knew exactly what they wanted. It turned
out to be a very pleasant experience. Communication and interpretation
is easy when working with natural leaders. In a room full of powerful
people, a tuned ear is all that is required. My dad always told
me to repeat what I heard. Keeping communications short, clear,
and confirmed; I relayed everything I heard, repeated it through
email, and met communication breakdowns before interpretation. The
result was in the client’s word was “a home run.”
For the basics, the event had two dinners in the
ballrooms. Every floral centerpiece was lit with a pin spot. The
floral came to life. Every event should pin spot centerpieces. First
it doesn’t cost very much. Also, if you put the focus on the
people, you have created nothing more than a glorified house party.
If you put the focus on the features, you have created an event.
I often say “people are a lot like bugs they are always drawn
to the light.” By making the center pieces brighter than the
rest of the room, the eventscape is immediately noticed. A lasting
impression is made when the guest first enters the room, setting
the tone for the rest of the evening. The moment of “awe”
is the success of event design. If the first thing they notice is
the walls or the wardrobe then the event design has failed to exceed
the value of its natural environment. Walls and wardrobes are always
present and shouldn’t receive attention. For each of the three
days, we used Swiviliers to extend and focus the recessed lighting
as the room morphed each night. Highlighting the unique event highlights,
emphasizing the changes, and focusing the guest attention; we brought
value to the event design and a greater return on the décor
FYI, the twinkle lights were only
for the final night. Using traditional incandescent twinkle lights
upon the client’s request, the power demands exceeded 580
Amps. The largest tree required four 20 amp circuits with a continuous
power draw of 58.8 amps. All the branches of nearly 40 trees were
tightly wrapped. The largest tree had 140 strings of lights for
a total of 4667 feet of twinkle lights spaced 4” on center
for a total of 14,000 lights. A combination of ladders, scaffolding,
lifts, and tree climbing skills helped the team reach every branch.
Only 3 incandescent string lights can be linked in series for a
maximum of 100 feet of string lights. Power stations made up of
cube taps or power strips were strategically placed throughout the
tree to make sure we could reach all locations. Once the power was
run, we started wrapping from the bottom around the power cabling
which was zipping straight up the trunk. Twelve individual runs
came from the bottom of the tree swirling around the trunk. Two
guys climbed in the tree, one at the base, one on a ladder and one
on the lift. The largest tree took all three days to complete. Every
night we would turn on the lights and make notes for additions and
fixing any odd looking areas.
Common misconceptions about string lights are
to cover the bushes. For the 100 or so bushes, we zigzagged through
them. If you lay the string lights on top the lights look like they
are trying to cover or hide the bush creating a conflict between
foliage and technology. But by simply pushing the string into the
bush a couple inches, magic is created. As the light disappears
and reappears as the leaves dance in the wind, the twinkle brings
memories of fireflies and forest magic prominent in modern fantasy
environments. By exposing the cable, the unnatural technology invading
the bush conflicts with the fantasy. The other mistake is creating
too much symmetry. By creating a grid an industrial feeling will
make the design contrived. Never create lines. Organic string light
placement is most easily achieved through seemingly random placement.
If the lights are perfectly spaced, the look is unnatural. By quickly
placing the lights without forethought creates organic design. By
looking at it at night and filling the obvious week spots and clusters,
I have found the most natural and balanced look can be achieved.
Through mild inconsistencies, the design contains crescendos and
decrescendos, fortes and pianissimos. The two step process, rush
and repair, gives the overall look a musical quality that intrigues
and seduces the viewer.
I don’t like covered trees
either. My first inclination is to add wraps around the outer perimeter
of the tree. I always regret it. By highlighting the skeleton of
the tree and not the leaves, the viewer gets a chance to peer into
the trees soul. The trunk and branch system is the architecture
of the tree. Highlighting the architectural lines is common practice
in commercial lighting. Why would trees be any different? The seductive
nature of the winding branches as they twist and weave into the
air is hidden by the leaves. In the winter, the romance of the exposed
branches has been the inspiration for countless poems and paintings.
Through lighting we can capture both the inspired life of leaf and
the romance of branch. Much like a strip tease, the audience cannot
stop watching in anticipation. By wrapping the branches, the meandering
lines glow. Even the subtlest movement reveals another branch and
greater understanding trees structure. The process of discovery
is thrilling. Even with a passive audience, the interest remains.
They may not know why they liked it but my guests always comment
on the beauty and power of lighting.
Now I would like to say exactly the opposite.
Truth is always contextual and lighting design is no different.
I love symmetry in symmetrical environments. In a geometric garden,
grids look great. For the round tent we perfectly spaced 102 string
lights attached to a center truss extending to the outer perimeter.
Pulling out the tape measure we achieved a seamless canopy of lights.
The truss was round but the tent was a hexadecagon (16 sides). So
the distances between the truss and the sides varied. With the power
of Zip ties, we twisted each zip tie to achieve a same amount of
lag in each string. The shelter of light glistened over the event
romancing the air.
The 72’ round tent was beautiful and unique.
With 16 beams arching towards the center, the elegant lines are
truly and architectural achievement. The covering was clear, giving
the event a feeling of freedom. But, one cannot light clear. Using
the same concepts from the trees, we illuminated every arch to create
a magenta overtone to the structure. The spatial quality to having
stacked ceiling grids was stunning. The magenta glow of the steel
arches combined with the clear visual to the dazzling sunset and
starry sky made a complimentary landscape for white twinkle lights
To really make tables clothes POP,
the magic is in color matching. Objects only reflect the colors
in their substance. A red object only reflects red light. A green
light or blue light will make the red object dark. A white object
is the summation of all colors so it will reflect any color. Yellow
can be slanted to red or green but goes dark when submersed by a
blue light. In this case the table clothes were magenta. By putting
a magenta light on a magenta object, the object will look flawless.
Anything not magenta in color will not reflect the magenta light.
Flaws and blemishes will disappear. I learned this while I was lighting
older exhibits at museums. If the giant tongue was scuffed, I would
focus two lights on the tongue one in white one in red. The red
spike truly makes the object look great . . . well better. During
the event if someone spilled a drink or got food on the table, the
unforgiving magenta would wash out the undesirables. The tables
had a radiant glow as if the tables themselves were back lit.
The second tent was intended to be more functional
than dynamic. The décor was tasteful and undemanding. The
ice sculptures were the primary focus. Each night the sculptures
changed and the tables were redecorated. Each night the color changing
LEDs were refocused to bring life to the ice and the Narrow pars
were focused on the tables with or without centerpieces. The consistent
execution was difficult only because we were focusing during the
day in the sunlight. We would place our heads on the tables and
try to focus the light into each other’s eyes. The result
was flawless and the reward was a burnt retina.
The buzz from the event is still being echoed
in the Charlotte market. Although the concepts were not new, the
scope and fusion of the ideas provided a unique visual experience
for the guest. The ever changing décor of the three day event
built anticipation towards the final evening for the twinkle light
reveal. Using good lighting technique, all the trades received their