When Scott Osburn and Hank Keller first conceived of Lights All Night, the world was a very different place. It was the dawn of the 2010s and festival culture was still in its infancy–compared to what it’s become, at least. The pair had just graduated college and were eager to stake their claim in the growing industry. They’d already planted the seeds for a major event with their annual Highland Entertainment New Year’s Eve events, parties that started off with a group of their friends and eventually drew music lovers from throughout North Texas. It was a good enough foundation for something more ambitious.
“The first thought process was, what do we do?” Osburn says. “We looked at this New Year’s Eve time period, and this event that already had this customer database and history, and we said, let’s build off of that. Let’s pick a larger venue, find a legitimate artist, let’s brand it, call it Lights All Night.”
Against all odds of the event business, the festival’s first year was a raging success. Their little New Year’s Eve bash was now a 6,000-person affair at the Plaza of the Americas, and it sold out in advance.
“We covered an ice skating rink. The stage was above it, and it was at the interior of that atrium over Plaza of the Americas, and it was incredible,” says Osburn. “It was just kind of like this surreal, over the top, really unique venue experience.” An experience, he notes, probably wouldn’t slide with fire marshals in 2019. “Man, I’m glad we got to do that one.”
The second year was twice the size, bringing about 13,000 people to Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center for two nights in a row. There weren’t many bells and whistles, just a solid lineup of musicians and an LED wall to gaze at.
“Now, that wouldn’t fly. If we had Lights All Night today with that level of production, we’d be in trouble,” Osburn says, laughing.
Ten years in, Lights All Night is much more than a concert. Every aspect of the experience has been carefully orchestrated. There are art installations, brand activations, VIP lounges, and everything else that’s now expected to come with the festival package.
“We’ve had to move venues over the years, and we’ve had good years and bad years, and just adapted to growing pains,” Osburn says.
The third edition in 2012 was a particularly rough moment and almost spelled the end for Lights All Night. Osburn lost $1 million on the festival that year. It took a bit to bounce back.
“We finally got to the point where we were like, ‘OK, now we have the ability to start investing into the experience more.’ We put every dollar that we could into. I’d say that was about three years ago. And in the last two years, especially this year, we’ve really gone headfirst with putting everything we can into the experience.”
The lineup this year is probably the strongest yet for fans of the genre—Bassnectar, Skrillex, Louis the Child, and Virtual Self headline—and the production is more involved than ever. DreamHack is returning with its free gaming lounge. There will be photobooths, a mechanical shark ride, an IV bar, food trucks (including an “Egg Stand,” which I find bizarre), two main stages and three additional stages, a football field-sized LED screen, and photo-worthy art installations.
Fort Worth-based artist Jay Wilkinson is building a piece with 15,000 balloons, while Dallas’ Alicia Eggert is bringing in one of her neon sign installations. West Coast-based artist Sprouts is setting up giant LED palm trees.
“I know the future of the event, and where my head is at, is, how do we continue to have that convergence of technology, production, and art?” says Osburn.
In today’s saturated festival market, that’s the only way to stand out and keep attendees returning year after year.
“There are other amazing events out there–you can’t compare us to the Coachellas of the world, it isn’t fair–but from a regional perspective, making something that people want to see what we’re going to do next,” he adds.
Lights All Night, coming to Dallas Market Hall on December 27 and 28, has already sold out this year, but you can get on the waitlist for GA tickets here.