For celebrities attending the Kentucky Derby, the annual Barnstable Brown Gala, held on the eve of the race, is the party at which to be seen. This year’s star-studded event drew the likes of Jenny McCarthy, Cybill Shepherd, Kevin Federline, and Peyton Manning—not to mention an incredible cast of performers: Kid Rock, Gene Simmons, Jimmy Fallon, Joey Fatone, Nick Lachey, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Michael McDonald, Eddie Money, Mary Wilson of the Supremes, and more.
Whether mingling with fellow guests or up on stage, these luminaries were always in the spotlight, thanks to a package of lighting from Elation Professional, which was put together and operated by Sounds Unlimited Productions (SUP) of New Albany, IN.

According to Chris Hughes of SUP, who has handled the event for a number of years, the Barnstable Brown Gala presents a couple of unique lighting challenges. For one, it is held in a 40’ x 90’ tent at the private residence of Patricia Barnstable Brown, who co-hosts the party with her sister Priscilla Barnstable. Second, the entertainment is totally unscripted, with artists spontaneously joining each other on stage and serving up an eclectic mix of music—from pop to hip-hop to metal.

This year, for the first time, Hughes used a wireless control system, Elation’s EWDMXT Wireless Transmitter with 2 EWDMXR Wireless Receivers. “In an outdoor tent there’s a lot of swaying, and with guests moving all around—I’m always worried that cables will end up going where people are,” says Hughes. “Using the wireless system eliminated this problem. The Elation system worked beautifully—not a hiccup.”

Another concern with a tent is the low trim height. The lighting was rigged on a line of truss from Elation’s sister company Global Truss, which ran down the spine of the tent. Directly overhead, Hughes positioned eight Elation Design Spot 250s, a “hybrid” moving head that can transform from a spot to a wash by applying its variable Frost feature.

The Design Spots were used in wash mode as guests entered the tent. “With a trim height of just 15’, the Design Spots gave good coverage from a close distance,” notes Hughes. Their versatility to be used as either a wash or spot was perfect for the evening’s spontaneity, he adds. “It’s not just spot coverage. I program a variety of individual and full-stage looks, because this is one party where you never know what’s going to happen.”

For example, while Jimmy Fallon was performing Kid Rock snuck up on stage and joined him and the energy level, already sky-high, went through the roof. Before that, when Mary Wilson was crooning out Motown tunes, the mood called for more subtle lighting.

Two Elation Power Spot 575IE moving heads were used for stage color and animation, and two Power Spot 575s provided backdrop animation. “We criss-crossed a couple of 575s to give the backdrop texture and movement,” Hughes explains. He also added five Elation Design 12 Brick LEDs, (three for front stage wash, and two for uplighting), matching their colors with those of the moving heads. The lighting configuration provided the ability to “change colors and attitudes with different performers.”

The LEDs provided amazingly bright output while drawing incredibly low wattage, Hughes noted. “People couldn’t believe the amount of light they put out. They competed with the 575s—the reds were actually brighter.” Another thing Hughes liked about the LEDs was their preset internal programs, which he utilized to cut down on programming time.

The evening’s visual production went off so smoothly it was “scary,” reports Hughes. About the only potential glitch came midway through, when the hostesses changed their mind about using a particular color that had previously been agreed upon. But thanks to his Elation Show Designer 2 controller, Hughes could make quick adjustments. ”With the Show Designer’s presets, I was able to switch some things around and override my programming on the fly.”