In August 2005, the buzz was building in Biloxi, MS — Hard Rock was opening a hotel and casino, and it was going to be the area's first new hospitality property in almost seven years. The stage was set, the lights were cued, and the invitations were sent out, but one guest showed up unexpectedly and uninvited — Hurricane Katrina.

Like much of the Gulf Coast, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi was devastated. When Katrina blew into town, the Hard Rock blew out to sea. Even some of the music memorabilia was being fished out of the Gulf of Mexico for months afterward. But fret not, rock and roll mavens: The Hard Rock is open in Biloxi, and from Michelle Phillips' fur hat to a Jethro Tull Gold record, it is finally bringing down the house to throngs of gamers, diners, partiers, shoppers, concert-goers, and anyone else looking to get the party started, get their freak on, or just celebrate good times!

Aside from the rock and roll environment that permeates the Hard Rock and a decidedly hipper clientele — not as many oxygen tank-wearing grandmas at the slot machines as neighboring casinos! — another thing that sets the Hard Rock apart is the look. With an unequivocally upscale, sleek, modern feel, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino brings a unique touch of big city panache to the Bible Belt.

The interior is rich with white and purple hues, dark woods, plush fabrics, and clean lines, and boasts a contemporary lighting scheme courtesy of Jon Champelli, president of Shop12 Design — an affiliate of the Las Vegas design firm Steelman Partners — who designed the lighting to convey the fact that you are in an upscale hotel, but one with a rock attitude, so that everywhere you go “you'd constantly be immersed in a kinetic, energetic environment,” says Champelli. Steelman Partners was responsible for the architectural and interior design.

That energy is evident before you even enter the front doors. The first thing you spot is the 112' Peavey guitar sign of the Hard Rock's logo that is constantly pulsing with row after row of colored neon. The building's façade is also awash in various hues from Color Kinetics' Powercore fixtures combined with Martin's Exterior 200s mounted on specially designed poles. This exterior treatment echoes the flagship Vegas Hard Rock, but Champelli says that with the fixtures on Holophane Site-Link T-1 and T-2 exterior light poles instead of attached to the building, “It looks pretty rock 'n' roll.”

If the exterior is any indication, be prepared to be immersed into the heart of rock 'n' roll as you are greeted by a two-story-tall memorabilia wall with display cases of various shapes and sizes showing off Neil Finn's guitar, Justin Timberlake's shirt from his 'NSYNC period, and much, much more. This display is based on a similar one at the Hard Rock Hotel in Seminole, FL, but the lighting treatment was very static, according to Champelli, who used more than 1,000 Color Kinetics iColor Cove QL units to give the iconic pieces an ever-evolving look as the colors change constantly creating a mini-light show.

“We decided to make a big piece of kinetic light art out of it,” he says, adding that the memorabilia connoisseurs were concerned about having only color-changing light, so Champelli added in LED downlight from ColorBlast 12 Powercores that washed the atrium's white walls to make the pieces pop without being overwhelmed by the pulsating colors.

As the QLs are low-maintenance and heat output is at a minimum, these one-of-a-kind artifacts will be preserved for our grandkids to enjoy. All of the display wall's lighting and washes were programmed on a Color Kinetics LSM Light System Manager that is triggered via DMX and all runs back to an AMX front end, keeping it all in sync.

Up the escalators, beyond the wall of fame is the Hard Rock's spacious main lobby, where you're greeted by enormous paintings of The Boss and the Kings of Rock 'n' Roll and Lizards (Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley, and Jim Morrison, for you rock neophytes). But if you look up, you'll see even more art in the form of “skylights” that Champelli created with 25 units of iColor Tile FX per 10'×10' skylight. The 2'×2' iColor serves as a canvas for the fluid lighting designs, effects, animation, and medium-resolution Video with Light controlled by the CK Video System Manager that play on a one-hour loop.

“The pre-Katrina version had us using fabric screens that never held taut and were hard to maintain,” Champelli explains. “So we changed it to Panelight material, a very cool, lightweight panel that looks like a honeycomb. Since the video is low res, it will be pixilated, but the Panelight makes it look like a design choice.” The overhead light show was programmed by Champelli using an AMX Max content server.

Rock On: Vibe

Aside from being a rock 'n' roll heaven, the Hard Rock also has a reputation for good food and drinks. If you're in the mood for one of its world-famous burgers, you won't be disappointed, as there is a Hard Rock Café right off the lobby. You also have your pick from the 24/7 Grille, the Satisfaction! Buffet (what's a casino without a buffet?), and right off the 48,000sq-ft. gaming floor is Vibe, a multi-fusion upscale eatery that beckons with its colorful marquee ignited from within by iColor Flex SLs LED-based light strands.

Champelli says that the motivation for the Vibe entry was that of a biker's leather jacket — the signage is covered in faux leather while the points of light are reminiscent of metal studs. The 24'×12' steel frame marquee is covered in DiBond with punched holes that allow for almost 3,500 iColor nodes to slightly protrude from the surface. Each node can be individually controlled to create intricately designed effects and patterns. Originally envisioned as an ultra-lounge, Vibe has a handful of theatrical fixtures installed, including Martin MAC 250 Kryptons and MX10s. There are also color-changing EVO downlights from Renaissance Lighting.

For those card sharps and slot jockeys who don't want to stray too far from the action, the Center Bar — smack dab in the middle of the casino — is a convenient and unapologetically stylish spot to throw back a few stiff ones. A giant oval with various metal panels radiating outward, the bar's ceiling resembles the inside of a ship's hull, albeit a very colorful one. ColorBlast12 Powercores streak a variety of colors from panel to panel, as iColor Module FX units with controllable points of light illuminate the center with intricate patterns, images, animation, and video on a 15'×25' LED wall.

To give the Center Bar a pulsating feel, Champelli created exuberant and colorful video content that would alternately compare and contrast with the ceiling colors, providing a rhythm without being distracting. “Part of it is just giving people something to look at while they're having a few drinks,” he says. “You see that bar at a distance from the gaming tables, slot machines, restaurants, and so on, and you've got that kinetic, energetic backdrop that keeps everything moving and keeps the whole casino centered.”

Most of the install — including Vibe, the display cases, the Center Bar, and more — was undertaken by 4Wall Entertainment, under the supervision of Buddy Pope.

Stairway To Heaven: Rise

Just like the cherry on top of a decadent ice cream sundae, the Hard Rock also has an exorbitant treat up top: Rise Lounge. Located on the penthouse level, this 4,000sq-ft. “ultra-lounge,” created by Rande Gerber's Gerber Group, combines an exclusive clientele, cutting-edge design, signature cocktails, and state-of-the-art lighting, sound, and video equipment to create a nightclub experience never before seen on the Mississippi coast.

Designed by Travis Bass, the concept for Rise was to create an exclusive VIP area, but one that was available to everybody. “We felt that if you're on the penthouse of the Hard Rock overlooking the water, that's living at the top, living the VIP lifestyle,” Bass says, “so we wanted to create a very sexy lounge with a lot of energy where people can dance and drink and feel like a VIP, but at the same time you're comfortable.”

Design-wise, the color scheme for the lounge uses a lot of black and red, but Bass was determined to include various fun elements such as an oversized lamp shade, hung upside down from the ceiling, that serves as a projection screen, a golden column surrounded by a dance platform, and, of course, mirrored disco balls — 10 of them — to get the point across that Rise may be upscale, but it is still all about having fun.

When the club opens around 9pm on Friday and Saturday nights, it has more of a low-key, laid-back lounge feel. Later on, according to Bass, it turns into a “small European disco.” To that end, it was important to have a minimal lighting rig that could do a lot of tricks.

“We decided to get these Elation Design Spot 250 moving-head fixtures that are a hybrid,” he explains. “They can be a wash or a spot. Early in the evening, we do more color washes to accent the beauty of the space. Later, the program changes, and the Design Spot 250s transform into spots and create patterns and swirls that project off the gold column and the mirror balls floating from the ceiling.”

The video on the inverted lampshade, programmed by Bass on a Panasonic 5-disc changer and projected via a Viewsonic 2000 PJ506D video projector, creates a certain upscale, “fashiony” feel. Bass constructed the content through photo shoots to create a video arc of high-fashion models, faces, clothes, and more, all with a black background so that it would blend in with the black surface. “By doing that, it added a little bit of fun and beauty to the space,” he adds.

Behind the main bar (there is also a smaller bar for more intimate parties) is a video component that also has chameleon-like qualities. Bass framed the plasma screens behind the bar for a cleaner appearance. Along with the plasmas, there are Color Kinetics iColor Module FX RGB color tiles, with a layer of orange Plexiglas and a two-way mirror in front of them. Early in the evening, when a simple mirrored bar look is wanted, you have it. But later, when it's time to set the night on fire, the scene behind the bar erupts in low-res flames adding visual heat to an already hot nightclub experience.

Despite a delay of almost two years, the party never stops at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi. With an unmistakable blend of never-ending rock music, contemporary design, and kinetic lighting effects throughout, this hot spot on the Mississippi coast has signaled a rebirth after its brush with disaster.

Mark A. Newman is the former managing editor of Live Design and now serves as the editor of Southern Breeze, an upscale travel and lifestyle magazine located on the Gulf Coast where he can go to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi whenever he feels like it!



1 ETC Emphasis-Expression Console

1 ETC Emphasis Expression Rackmount LPC

2 ETC Emphasis-2D Server

1 ETC MDD Data Distribution with 6 Universes

2 ETC NET2 4-Port Node

1 Alcorn McBride Light Cue DMX Recorder

1 Interactive Technologies CueServer Rackmount Processor

1 Pathway DMX Repeater, 1 In, 6 Out

2 Martin Professional Oracle Controller

3 Color Kinetics Light System Manager Control System

4 Color Kinetics Video System Manager Control System

6 ETC Source Four 50° Ellipsoidal


Elation Professional Design Spot 250s

4 Martin Professional MX-10 Extreme Scanner

4 Martin Professional MAC 250 Krypton

27 Martin Professional Exterior 200

23 Martin Professional ViroSphere IP Light Reflector

36 Martin Professional Inground 200 CMY

24 Martin Professional Alien 05 Recessed Eyeball

5 Wybron Nexera LX CDM Profile Light

29 Holophane Square Light Pole

412 Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12 Powercore

3 Color Kinetics ColorBurst 4

519 Color Kinetics iColor Cove MX Powercore, 12"

1,326 Color Kinetics iColor Cove QL 12" Cove Strip

136 Color Kinetics iColor Cove QL 6" Cove Strip

127 Color Kinetics iColor Flex SL, 4"

16 Color Kinetics iColor Flex SL, 2"

242 Color Kinetics iColor MR g2

511 Color Kinetics iColor Module FX

176 Color Kinetics iColor Tile FX

Renaissance Lighting EVO 8" RGB Downlights

1 AMX NI3000 Master Controller

1 AMX Max Content Server

4 AMX Max-AVP Audio/Video Player

1 AMX NXT-CV12 LCD Screen