Cleaner, Brighter, Heading To A Greener Future

Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever World Tour
LED Reigns: Following the lead of Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills and Nash, newer artists like Billie Eilish (pictured on stage at The O2 Arena in London in June 2022) are likely to utilize LED lighting on tour, as it’s all they’ve ever known.
Photo by Samir Hussein Getty Images / Live Nation UK

Jackson Browne was one of the first artists to embrace LED lighting. Bandit Lites founder Michael Strickland tells the story of Browne calling him up with the aim of touring in a way that was more sustainable for the planet. Strickland notes that Browne lives off the grid thanks to “a barn full of batteries.”

The year was 2008, and LED lights were in their infancy. Most people used incandescent bulbs, which offer a warmer glow but utilize significantly more energy.

“There were only a handful of [LEDs] even made, and they were wildly expensive,” Strickland tells Pollstar. “I explained to [Browne] that we could do that, but it would cost a lot more to pay me than to just use the regular stuff. And he didn’t care.”
They got to work on a new range of equipment, called GRNLITE, which premiered on Browne’s tour in late ’08/early ’09. The tour wound up featuring the world’s first complete LED system.

At the time, Browne’s tour was groundbreaking. Now, it’s par for the course. Strickland shares that younger artists almost exclusively use LED on the road, many of them having never known anything different. The older bands, he says, have been harder to convert.
When Crosby, Stills and Nash converted to LED, they were thrilled about being green and doing something that bettered the environment. “David Crosby calls me at home, and he goes, ‘Well, this is really cool. We’re glad to be saving energy and glad to be green. And it worked really well. However, is there a way you can make some heat come off those lights?’ Because in the outdoor shows where it was chilly, that’s what kept them warm,” Strickland says.

Strickland thought the transition to LED would be adopted faster than it has.
Back in the late 2000s, when the future of LED seemed like an absolute no-brainer due to its positive environmental impacts, Bandit Lites was convinced LED would completely take over by 2012. Today, LED makes up 70% of the industry.

“We’re inching closer, but it’s taken a lot longer than any of us in the industry thought it would,” Strickland says. “We like the LED fixtures because the old-style fixtures are called gaseous discharge lamps, because they’re a glass tube with gas in them. All the older, non-LED bulbs cost a lot of money and burn out quickly. So, you could have a big light show for an artist, and you’ll have hundreds of thousands of dollars of lighting bulbs. And if you have to replace half of them during the tour, that’s $50,000. With LED, the things last 50 years. So, you don’t have to buy light bulbs.

“So, there’s that savings. There’s the energy savings. There’s the fact that it uses 10% of the cable because it needs 10% of the electricity. You need less electricity in the building because you use less cable. You have less trunks in the truck. You lower the demand for air conditioning in the venues. And the reduction of cable in the trucks means you get a little bit better mileage.”

The internet has driven a lot of change in lighting with pop superstars being made in mere months. Because of that, new artists have had an easier time using LED lights on tour — it’s all they’ve ever known.

“Those old barriers to entry to being a creative person are gone,” Strickland says. “People are 100 percent going to use all LED because it’s all they’ve ever known. They never worked in the old medium. Furthermore, those people lean more heavily toward video than just lighting. Because they’ve grown up with video.”

Another innovation in green lighting is Claypaky’s laser source moving lights called the Xtylos series, which were used on the 2022-23 “Denim & Rhinestones Tour” for Bandit Lites client Carrie Underwood. The Xtylos series draws 400 watts of power per fixture compared to a traditional laser that might use 800 to 1,200 watts of power (see story on Claypaky lasers).

Meanwhile, festivals continue to utilize hundreds of diesel generators to power not just stage lights, but the entire venue itself – creating a large amount of emissions. Strickland dreams of a future where solar energy is more utilized. Though solar remains expensive and susceptible to weather, the technology is there and sure to eventually become cheaper and more efficient.

Willie Nelson has already gotten a jump on going green by running his main stage at Luck Reunion last year with solar panels.