Monday, March 23, 2015

An Inexpensive Lighting System You can Install

Newell Lodge offers one of the best venues for small to mid-sized bluegrass festivals. Built in a live oak hammock deep in the piney woods of south Georgia, the Lodge features a grove of lovely, unspoiled, majestic trees, a small restaurant, comfortable guest houses, and a stage which offers wonderful sound and stage lighting that's both effective. You can buy all the materials necessary to install this inexpensive lighting system at your local home center or hardware store. Many stages, especially at local venues and with sound men who cannot afford to provide a first-rate lighting setup or a lighting tech rely on limited knowledge and inadequate equipment to provide weak lighting, poorly balanced in both color and amount of light. The advent of LED lighting, with its ghostly colors and inadequate color balancing systems has only made things worse. Flourescent lights provide inadequate light with weird colors. Here's what Newell Lodge has done to provide a solid lighting system:

Light across the front is provided by two banks of these outside lighting fixtures.  Four across the front of the Newell Lodge sign designed and aimed to light the band, and three behing the sign to provide back lighting, helping to eliminate shadows. They have all been pre-aimed and require no adjustments during the festival. There are light switches on the wall beside one of the doors and a switch box hidden behind the green cutout guitar. Notice that there is blown in insulation between the joists, providing nearly complete deadening of echos coming off the planes of the stage, which is roughly 30' by 30'.  

Overall Stage Set-up


Most bluegrass stages do not provide foot lights, which are quite necessary. Due to both bluegrass custom (cf. Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers) cowboy hats are part of the traditional bluegrass uniform. More recently, many band members wear various kinds of baseball caps while they perform. Such headwear, unless very carefully set at a high angle, places a shadow over the forehead and eyes of performers. These simple footlights eliminate the shadow completely, allowing even hats that are pulled own to be worn without risk.


Two sets of side lights are set on either side of the stage. These contribute to further reducing unwanted shadows. Plugs for the setup are placed low along the walls. An inexpensive indoor-outdoor carpet further reduces echo and provides a comfortable footing for musicians. 


This picture of the Lonesome River Band was taken without flash during their evening performance. Taken without a flash at f4, 1/60 second, ISO 1400, easily achievable numbers with any point and shoot camera.

Here's a link to an inexpensive stage light dimmer  you can order from Amazon, if you wish to have greater control. Because the color of the lights presented here isn't a factor, you won't need to do any work balancing color.

An effective stage lighting system can be added to your stage, making the experience for fans much richer for a relatively small investment. Price it out for yourself to see if doing so would work well for you. There are many adaptations that can/should be made to this basic system to improve it. In my opinion, multi-color LED pots is NOT one of them unless you have pretty good skill at balancing color and a good lighting board. However, this system should be easy to adapt to your skills and needs.

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