Lighten Up

Augusta, Ga.’s Country Club Gets an Illuminating Overhaul to the Tune of Increased Sales

Country Club Augusta, Georgia

The right lighting sets the ideal mood any place, any time. The wrong lighting can ruin it. In fact, ambiance can make or break an evening for a bar, nightclub and even a restaurant. So when Lewis Blanchard, owner of The Country Club in Augusta, Ga., brought in a lighting designer last summer to revamp his already-
successful country music nightclub into an ultra saloon, he was taking a gamble. But the lighting upgrade paid off — and it can for your venue, too.

Blanchard wanted to use lighting to create an atmosphere that would increase guest traffic and also spending at his club, but he faced obstacles in his quest to highlight the best parts of his multifaceted venue. His first problem: The club’s stage lighting was weak. Given that the now four-year-old Country Club features live country music acts and a DJ three nights a week, as well as a national act at least once a month, Blanchard realized that keeping a crowd — and performers — satisfied would require better lighting. But that wasn’t Blanchard’s only trouble: The club is a fusion venue, attracting a line dancing crowd early in the evening, hosting live country acts later on, and straying beyond its country music roots around 12:30 a.m. to cater to a dance crowd. With different entertainment booked to perform throughout the night, he needed to ensure his diverse clientele always felt comfortable. And his last problem was perhaps the most important: The multiple bar areas were getting lost in the dimly lit, wood-heavy space, with neon signs practically the only lighting identifying where his should-have-been cash cows — his bars — were located.

The solution: Jack Kelly, entertainment technology designer for Eye Dialogue Lighting and Sound. Upon entering The Country Club, Kelly, who has completed about three dozen nightclub and bar projects, immediately realized the bars were not the first thing that caught his eye — a kiss of death in the alcohol service industry.

“The reason people go to bars/clubs is to drink while they are entertained,” Kelly explains. “If someone cannot find the bar in the first 10 seconds, the owner is losing sales. No sales, no bar, no place to party, everybody loses. Alcohol, alcohol, alcohol — get it?”

Country Club Augusta, GeorgiaSo, together, Kelly and Blanchard decided to add lighting to the vertical surfaces on the bars, using Color Kinetics LED cove lights. The lighting hits the rough-cut wood of the bars and makes them more noticeable to the guests.

The vertical lighting also helped take the attention away from the neon signs scattered on walls and redirected it toward the now-illuminated bars — the financial hub of the club. This targeted focus helps increase bar sales, Kelly says.

“If you don’t want to light the bar, cool. But all bars make the majority of their money selling alcohol,” he explains. “If you can keep people at the bar, sales go up. If everyone gets pulled away from the bar to see the cool features elsewhere, the guests will probably finish their drinks and wait 10 to 20 minutes before getting another.”

But illuminating the bars didn’t solve all of Blanchard’s problems. He still needed to work on the stage, as the entertainment is one of the main reasons guests choose his club over others in the area. Guests must be able to see the performers, so to make the area stand out Kelly wanted to raise the truss, which already stood at 9 feet. This proved the greatest challenge, as the original truss was based around the air-conditioning and sprinkler locations. In order to remedy this problem, the team dismantled and reassembled the truss, and the extra 2 feet of height opened up the area, allowing the lighting to have a much greater impact on the venue.

Country Club

“The improvements to the stage area...are by far the most noticed and appreciated improvements,” Blanchard says. “The bands appreciate more visibility with less heat from the lights, and the customers like what we have been able to accomplish from a better viewing perspective.”

Finally, it came time to address the dance floor lighting. Patrons want to see who’s dancing. (Think about the value of that: The people who dance at your venue are free entertainment for your nightclub, and not only that, they’re free entertainment you actually can make money off when they head to the bar.) Making them feel comfortable and attractive keeps the dancers — and the onlookers — happy and, most importantly, spending. To make the dancers stand out, Kelly suggests adding a dim wash above the dance floor, putting a somewhat brighter focus on the dancers than the surrounding crowd. “People are a lot like bugs: They are attracted to the light,” he quips. “Make the dance floor slightly brighter than the rest of the room and everyone will watch, letting your free entertainment do their job.”

Fog brought another element to the club. “It turns the room washes, perfect for bands and line dancing, into a room full of beam effects. The attention turns from the color of the floor to the number of beams cutting through the room.”

Chauvet 200Bs added wide beam angles and additional lighting to the dance floor, and each corner of the dance floor housed a moving wash. Part of Kelly’s plan was to purposely leave the outer areas of the dance floor darker, allowing “wallflowers” to ease their way onto the floor at their own pace. A three-dimensional effect on the dance floor was achieved through beam crossing effects, provided by four Double Derby X lights — each in a corner of the floor. And to keep the focus on the center of the action, the club’s existing eight Elation moving spots stayed.

The huge amount of lighting at The Country Club — more than 200 fixtures — proved a struggle, however, as the number of lighting fixtures exceeded the limitations of the lighting control software, Martin LightJockey. But Kelly was able to work around the issue with relative ease. “We combined some addresses that used LED packs on LightJockey to get all the fixtures within its 100-fixture limitation,” he says.

This struggle, among others, is why Blanchard recommends outsourcing certain projects. “Many believe you can save money by doing things yourself, but in reality, if you really want the best bang for the buck, it is best to have a professional assist you in areas such as lighting, sound, décor, etc., as this is their specialty,” he says.

Kelly insists the real key to the project’s success was the ease with which he and Blanchard worked together. “The partnership between the owner and the designer is key. The owner on his own will fill his venue with mediocre ideas. The designer on his own will design a beautiful lightscape that will confuse or isolate the clientele,” he explains. “The best jobs are when the owner lets the designer do his job to create and the designer lets the owner do his job to direct. If trust is possible, the result will always be success.” NCB

Bright Ideas for Nightclub Lighting

When re-imagining a venue’s lighting, keep the following tips in mind, explained by Jack Kelly, entertainment technology designer for Eye Dialogue Lighting and Sound:
1. Center Stage Bar. The reason people go to bars/clubs is to drink while they are entertained. So the bar [area] of the bar or club must get the most emphasis.

2. Razzle Dazzle ’Em. When people go to see live music they want more than audio. Something must be offered visually.

3. Focus on Free Performers — But Beware. In a nightclub, the guests are the entertainment. You must light the performers, who happen to all hang out on the dance floor. The break dancers and pretty ladies are the only ones that should be noticed in a club. No one wants to see the creepy guy in the corner. If one lights the dance floor, the voyeurs will ignore everyone else.

4. Steer Clear of the Spotlight. Never light someone long enough to know if they are hot. If [you] keep everybody guessing, the guest will keep drinking.

5. More than a Whitewash. Put a great wash with the ability to change color on the stage.

6. Beam Them Up. Create beam effects on the dance floor so the light cuts through the air and the crowd.

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