Kennedy in Conversation with...Adam Kirby of ILIOS Lighting

Kennedy in Conversation with...Adam Kirby of ILIOS Lighting

For our in-depth monthly series on all things Austin and events-related, we recently sat down with ILIOS Lighting designer Adam Kirby to talk about what lights him up, from the wonders of LED technology to the feeling of running the console at a truly epic live show.

KENNEDY CREATIVE EVENTS: What differentiates ILIOS from other lighting companies?

ADAM KIRBY, ILIOS LIGHTING: What I personally think differentiates us from other lighting companies is our amazing crew and staff. They’re always on point, they’re super knowledgeable about all of our gear, and they can go out and get the job done no matter what. We are a tight-knit group here and we are always here to help. That’s what I personally think sets us apart.

KENNEDY: When you guys are going into a space, how do you come up with a strategy for how to enhance the look and feel, how to play on the theme, and how to use what already exists?

KIRBY: Normally when we get to the space, with most events, there’s already a theme created. Sometimes that doesn’t come until later, but (most of the time) there’s already a theme. Luckily, most spaces have minimal to no lighting, so we get to go in and create from nothing, which is what I love. I love going to a blank canvas and seeing the room completely bare and then being able to decide what goes with the theme, whether it’s up-lighting or pin-spotting or chandeliers, depending on the type of event, and then build from there.

Some places in Austin – specifically, Brazos Hall – they do have some sort of lighting, but it’s a completely blank canvas. That’s one of my favorite venues… you go in and there’s such great texture from the walls and everything’s so neutral. In a neutral space, anything can work really well.

KENNEDY: What types of themes do you typically accommodate?

KIRBY: Really, anything.

KENNEDY: Any favorites?

KIRBY: Personally, even though it happens every single year, the winter wonderland kinds of themes – I love those, because we rarely get to work with a lot of blues, and blue is one of my favorite colors. So that type of theme (is fun). We love the fire-and-ice types of themes, as well… just to be able to incorporate warmth and cool colors into a space and let them meld really well together. Really, though, any theme. If you bring us a theme, we’ll start working on it.

KENNEDY: We’ve come to you with some wild stuff, so I believe that! So, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve come across while you’re going through the design process and when you’re working with creative themes for events?

KIRBY: I think the biggest challenge is budget. At least on the lighting side. Because lighting, unfortunately, the price goes up pretty quickly when you start adding more and more. So with most events, even if they have a really small budget, we try to do as much as possible of what they’re wanting. I think that’s the biggest challenge. Rigging in certain venues is also a challenge because, at most places, they don’t have in-house companies, and they don’t charge for us to go in to rig. Some places that have in-house teams do charge for outside vendors to rig, and they take it over, and it adds quite a bit to the budget. That’s a huge challenge going into a space, especially for someone who wants everything to be in the air. Those are the two main challenges for us.

KENNEDY: You mentioned budget and cost, so for those clients who are a little bit more cost-conscious, how would you introduce them to lighting, and what do you think are the most impactful pieces for a low price point?

KIRBY: Two of my favorite things – and they’re super basic, but they can completely change a space – are up-lighting and pin-spotting. Even in this room (we’re sitting in), even if I could put four up-lights in here, it would completely change the mood of the space, and it’s relatively inexpensive. And pin-spotting, for sure – I will always say that above anything. Most events, specifically weddings, will spend a lot of money on cakes and florals, and if you don’t have pin spotting, they kind of just disappear in the room, so even just having a handful of pin spots just for a head table or just for a cake, it really brings out those items, and those are fairly inexpensive to rent. So, for people trying to keep a low budget, up-lighting and pin-spotting, any day of the week. I love it.


KENNEDY: You work with a lot of different types of clients – social, corporate, and everything in between. Do you have a personal favorite type of client?

KIRBY: They’re all different, and that’s what I love. I do a lot of weddings, private and corporate events, and some live shows. They’re all a little different, but they’re all really sweet, and most of them know exactly what they want to accomplish. I enjoy talking to all of those people about the different types of events. I really don’t have a favorite type of client. I think they’re all pretty great and help me grow in my role here at ILIOS.

KENNEDY: Are there any spaces where you feel like lighting just always looks amazing? You mentioned Brazos Hall… any others?

KIRBY: I just love the way lighting looks at Brazos. And Laguna Gloria… it’s so pretty out there. Everything’s outside, but that space – it’s gorgeous. They don’t have a lot of light out there, so the lighting that we can add – even if it’s just up-lighting on the villa or additional festoon lighting throughout the property, it’s really pretty. I love Prospect House as well–lighting in the space looks great, and Erich, who runs it, I love that guy. He’s awesome and such a great person to be around. I like Palm Door on 6th… I don’t like most of 6th Street, but it’s a really cool little venue, the outdoor space is really nice, and that west room is cozy but really cool. They have accessible beams for us to hang our lights, so I personally love that… and a stage set up in the main room. You can’t go wrong with that venue.

KENNEDY: And that’s a super professional event venue. They were thinking like an event planner when they put it together.

KIRBY: Yeah. They have enough power to accommodate multiple venues in there, and we love that. 800 Congress is a baby Brazos Hall to me and is becoming one of my favorites. I love that space. It’s a completely blank canvas and you can do so much in there….. There are a lot of amazing spaces in Austin. It’s hard to pick a handful. We’re lucky to live and work here with all these awesome venues around town.

KENNEDY: When we think of large-scale lighting, we think of, say, Widespread Panic – crazy disco light shows. Who would be your top band in terms of their light show?

KIRBY: This is really hard because there are about a thousand and I could go on for hours. Just from shows I’ve been to in the past, specifically ones I’ve traveled cross-country for, one specific artist is James Blake. He’s one of my favorites, and his shows blow my mind. I drove to Washington DC to see him a few years back, flew to LA last year to see him, and then two weeks later saw him at ACL Live. Every time, his shows are just…beautiful –and his LD (lighting designer) is brilliant, and he’s going perfectly along with the music and pulling at the heartstrings. It grabs a hold of you. Go see him if you ever get the chance. It’s worth it.

One show specifically which blew my mind and was heavily focused on lighting, and of course music, was Mars Volta at ACL years ago. I was just standing there with my mouth open as the music took over. The music was so intense, the lighting… it was just amplified and incredible.

I also love more theatrical live music shows… I saw Neil Young years ago, with really pretty, more theatrical feel. Soft, mellow, and impactful lighting on the stage. B.B. King was the same way. Just him and the music. Minimal lighting, but it helped make the show.

Paul McCartney. Saw him at Frank Erwin Center years ago, and that light show was intense. Pyro going off as well, and it was like, “What is happening?!?!?!” I could go on for hours. So many live shows… live music is why I got into this business. I love doing shows, I love experiencing shows.


KENNEDY: How did you get involved with ILIOS, and lighting in general?

KIRBY: I first started with audio for theatre in junior high, and then slowly into high school, I started doing audio and lighting. Then in college, I was a theatre minor and studied some lighting there as well. Right after graduating, I started working for a smaller company in town which was mainly audio. I was looking for work, and my friend worked here in 2010, and I was like (rubs hands together), “Hey, I know you work for ILIOS. Are there any openings?” And he said, “Man, they’re hiring all the time, so send in a resume.” I did, and they hired me. I’ve been here since 2010. I love this place. These folks are my family and our office is my second home.

KENNEDY: What are some things you’ve seen in terms of technology, trends, client needs and wants changing over these last seven years?

KIRBY: So much. Specifically, working for a lighting company, we’ve seen a lot more video go out. Lighting is still necessary, but you can see people shifting their focus to video, which is great – I love video, and that’s another item we provide: large-scale video. Whether it’s projection mapping, LED video walls, projection. We do it all. We’ve also seen a change in LED technology… even in the last five years, it’s grown so much, and that helps us out, especially since it requires less power at venues. And you have a fixture which can change so many colors by the click of a button at the back of a fixture or on a console.

KENNEDY: Those LED panels we did at (a recent high-tech branded event) were awesome.

KIRBY: Oh yeah. LED has completely changed the industry. The industry used to only have PAR Cans years ago which you could add a gel to add color, but it would have to be the same color the entire time. Just seeing local Austin businesses change… this is a spot for events, all the time. When we started 12 years ago or so, we were just a small operation, and now we’re a much larger operation, and that’s because of so many events in Austin. We have either 14 or 15 full-time (team members), 10 or 12 part-time, and many contractors on the team now.


KENNEDY: When is your team all hands on deck? Is it Christmas? SXSW?

KIRBY: SXSW. ACL. Basically the full spring and fall seasons are all hands on deck, but SXSW is a completely different type of extreme busyness for a 3-week period. For (another team member named) Adam Crankshaw, Alex Soto, and myself, it’s even longer than that, just because we’re putting together all the proposals and building the designs for each event, so I guess it’s three (plus) months for Adam, Alex, and myself for SXSW, including the weeks themselves. It’s cool fitting all the events into a two-week span. It’s insane. And luckily at ILIOS, these are all my brothers and sisters. We always have each other’s backs, especially during super crazy times when we’re basically on for many days straight. It’s inspiring being a part of this team… it’s a really great group of individuals here.

KENNEDY: Is there anything that just doesn’t work? Have you seen any lighting trends you’ve seen — at events other than yours, of course – where you just think, “I wish this would stop?”

KIRBY: (pauses) This is hard.

(pauses again for a while) I guess it’s not so much that it doesn’t work, but over the last two or three years, we’ve seen the rise of festoon lighting. And I love festoon – it’s a gorgeous light, it looks great, but every venue wants it, every event wants it. I love the warmth of the bulbs, and it looks good for outdoor garden parties and it can look great indoors as well. It’s not a bad light. We just see it all the time. It’s just blown up on the scene and it’s everywhere. I’m definitely not against it – I love it – it’s just, “Wow… that’s definitely changed a lot over the years.” That, and twinkle lights. Christmas lights. Everywhere, all the time, year round. They’re really pretty, especially when it’s just the warm white twinkle lights, but seeing that and festoon popping up on every single quote… it’s crazy.


KENNEDY: Last question: if you could do the lighting for the live show of anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

KIRBY: This is a really hard one. I’ll have to think about it. (pauses) Jimi Hendrix is a lifetime favorite who I would have loved to work for, but that was at a time when they really didn’t have the type of lights we do now, so it’d be a completely different experience.

James Blake, like I mentioned before, I would love to tour with him. He creates beautiful music and his creativity is inspiring.

Awesome Grateful Dead shows, I would love to do that, because they incorporate so much lighting, especially now with Dead & Co. and John Mayer.

There’s just so many. Ween would be awesome to light… I’d love to light Ween. They’re one band but they cross into so many different genres of music, and the light shows are always pretty crazy.

I love live shows, and operating live shows when I get the opportunity these days. I love doing private events (too), but there’s something about running a show – it’s a feeling you don’t really get a lot, standing behind the console and a live show is happening, and you’re running it…

KENNEDY: People get addicted to that feeling.

KIRBY: That feeling is one you don’t get to experience every day… or at least, I don’t. The few times a year I get to operate something (like that), it’s like, “ILIOS is bringin’ me back! It feels awesome!” It’s a feeling like electricity running through my body, I’m feeling awesome. Eyes are wide open, heart racing…

KENNEDY: You’re there. You’re in it.

KIRBY: I’m in it.

Ready to light up your next event with creative ideas and flawless attention to detail? Put Kennedy on the case to make it shine. 

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