Christmas lights show dazzles by land, by sea

  • Published
  • By Steve Hoffmann
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
As some artists might work in acrylics or clay, Lt. Col. Scott Solomon, 81st Training Group deputy commander, works in Christmas lights. He is a master artisan of exterior illumination, a virtuoso of synchronized holiday fanfare. His medium of choice has traditionally been houses, a stationary canvas with which he weaves a tapestry of twinkling luminescence.

But this year, he is taking on a project quite different, a challenge so daring, so bold as to rock the very foundation of all we know about what can and cannot be made merry and bright -- the Dolphin. Not the fish but the boat -- Keesler's recreational fishing vessel.

Brig. Gen. Andrew Mueller, 81st Training Wing commander, has commissioned Solomon to "see what he can do" with the Dolphin to make it a stand-out entrant in Saturday's Christmas on the Water event in Biloxi.

Christmas on the Water is a community-wide celebration which features a parade of boats from Point Cadet Marina to the Biloxi Lighthouse. For 26 years, contestants have decked the bows of their boats with Christmas lights and floated them in front of a panel of judges to see which one is the best and brightest. Last year, Keesler placed second. But this year, Solomon is hoping to win the whole thing.

His plan is simple in its concept -- decorate the Dolphin with lights and play the Air Force song "Wild Blue Yonder." But Solomon has the technology and the capability to synchronize the lights to the song and make it look as though planes are actually going off into the wild blue yonder. The exact details of the light show have yet to be revealed.

"To my knowledge, no boat has ever had a show of lights set to music," noted Solomon.

In his spare time, Solomon has spent the past five years honing his craft. That's when he stopped just decorating his house with a static display of pretty lights and started choreographing an animated holiday extravaganza. Solomon uses controllers to make the lights do what he wants them to do. This year, he plans to use 10 controllers with 16 channels per controller for a total of 160 channels in all controlling approximately 50,000 tiny lights. According to Solomon, the show gets a little bit bigger every year. Last year's show had 18 songs, about 30 minutes in length and was broadcast on FM 107.5. Solomon uses compiling software called Aurora to synchronize the lights with the music. Solomon listens to the
music and everywhere he wants the lights to do something he puts a mark. Most of the songs are what you would expect -- Silent Night, Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, for example. But some are not -- the theme to Jeopardy, Mr. Roboto by Styx and what Solomon refers to as his "Broke Intro" at the beginning which makes the viewer think something is going wrong with the show.

Synchronized Christmas light shows are a natural fit for Solomon. He can find his way around the murky inner workings of computers and electronics much like Rudolph's red nose in a blizzard. His career background is in cyber operations and he was instrumental in standing up Keesler's new cyber schoolhouse while he was commander of the 333rd Training Squadron.

"I've always loved tinkering with things, especially with electronics," said Solomon. "It's always been a hobby of mine."

Solomon builds all his own sets, carefully places every light, wires all the electronics and even writes scripts that his high schoolaged son and daughter narrate as part of the show.

"The whole idea is to try and tell a story with the song," said Solomon. "So I like to have a lot of scene changes."

If you have access to the base and want to view the light show at Solomon's house, cruise down Vandenburg Drive in Bay Ridge housing -- you can't miss it. Just look for the brilliant, most dazzling house on the block. And if you want to bring a toy for a toddler, Solomon will have a Toys for Tots collection box in his front yard.

Additionally, there are two ways to view Solomon's Christmas on the Water boat show. One is to simply come to the parade this Saturday and watch it from land. The other is to purchase a $40 ticket and be a passenger aboard the Keesler Dolphin II. This price includes boat ride, food and beverages, fireworks and of course, an up-close screening of Solomon's light show. Tickets are first come, first served. The deadline for signing up is today. Boarding time is 3 p.m. Saturday.

For more information, call (228)377-3160.