For seven years, David Ingle has sacrificed a spike in his electric bill to bring a unique holiday show to Grand County. He spends three months hanging thousands of Christmas lights, then tinkering to synchronize them with sound and music. Visitors to his light show often leave him donations to support his cause, but instead of using them to cover his bill, he sends them to his favorite local charity, the Mountain Family Center. His 50-minute show changes every year, bringing a little variety and flavor to the holiday season. Ingle spoke with the Sky-Hi to explain the logistics behind the county’s biggest holiday light display.
How’d you get the idea to do a Christmas light display?
I saw the animated light shows on the news and TV, thought it was pretty cool, and decided I’d start doing it myself.
How do you synchronize everything? I hope you’re not inside flipping switches.
I use computer software. What I do is sit and listen to the song, stop it a lot, go back into the computer program and find little elements where the lights work with the music. Basically, in my head I try to separate different beats, like a drum beat or something along those lines.
Give me some numbers – how many lights are there total?
Golly, for a total count, there are more than 30,000. It was a lot smaller when I started seven years ago. Back then, I used just two controllers. Each I use will do 16 separate channels, or sets of lights. Now I’m up to 17 controllers. So whatever 16 times 17 is, that’s how many sets of lights I can control.
What do you do when a bulb goes out? Does it blow the whole thing out?
On the mini lights, yes! Then its’ trying to figure out which bulb went bad and get it replaced. It’s a process of elimination.
So I didn’t see any solar panels. What kind of spike do you see when the Mountain Parks electric bill comes?
It raises it about $200, which isn’t horribly bad for the whole thing. I start the Saturday after Thanksgiving and it runs through New Year’s Day.
How long did it take to set up?
It takes about three months to get it all set up. I do it all by myself.
What do your neighbors think about it?
All I have are part-time neighbors, but they love it. My neighbors to the south have two young boys, and they think it’s great. I’m fortunate. I know people in the Denver area, they sometimes have neighbors who don’t like it. Some areas have taken up a petition to get them to stop doing it because of the noise, light and traffic.
What makes you well-suited to run an electric light show? Do you have a background in electrical engineering or something?
Ha, no. I just learned it. I actually work for Xcel Energy. I take care of the high-pressure natural gas stuff here in Grand County. So I work for an electrical company but not on the electrical side.
Tell me how the song “Dueling Banjos” coupled with pyrotechnics made you think of the holidays? It’s definitely a highlight of the show.
Well, the “Dueling Banjos,” that took me almost a week to get sequenced. Then I added what I call a flame-thrower. I had to solve freezing problems on that (equipment). I used heat tape and insulation, that took care of it. And the way the banjos start out slow, then really take off, I figured that’d be a good spot to have the flames shoot in the air.
Is that your favorite part of the show this year?
No, not really. I like it all.
What made you decide to throw in the Macarena?
Because I get a lot of 20-somethings, the young kids, who like to get in the yard and hoop, holler and dance around. So I figured I’d put in some actual dance music. I did the Macarena, Jail House Rock and The Limbo. I figured if they wanted to get out and dance around, they could do it good.
Wow. So people get out of their cars and interact with the show?
Right, yep. I walk around and take donations for the Mountain Family Center, and we pass out candy canes.
Why did you decide to use the show to raise money for charity?
This is my third year doing the donations. It started because people wanted to give me money to apply to the power. I said I just do this for fun, I don’t need that. So I started looking at charities and Mountain Family Center was my choice.
How do you decide what music to play?
I change it up from year to year. I go back through all my files, and sometimes pick old songs so I don’t have to sequence so much. I try to fill the whole time slot, making it right about 50 minutes for each show. It gives people time to move out of my driveway, then the next batch comes in.
When’s the busiest time for the show?
Most visitors come right around the Christmas to New Year’s time frame. Friday and Saturday nights, the 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. shows, are usually the busiest. My driveway has been full, back to both sides of the road, to the point I thought I might have to call the sheriff’s department and have them do traffic control for me.
What kinds of comments have you received from visitors so far?
People love it. They just want to know how I do it. Basically the same questions you’re asking me.
Here’s one for you. How do you think the Flintstones were able to celebrate Christmas and write a song about it if they’re a modern Stone Age family (6000 B.C. to 2000 B.C.)?
They had Christmas back then, too!
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.