November 14, 2020 - 10:57 pm
It’s a sweaty, 95-degree day in October, but it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas for John Bentham. The CEO of Ivory Star Productions is standing on the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway thinking about Santa, hot chocolate and sugary kettle corn. All of that will be here soon to celebrate 20 years of the drive-through Glittering Lights.
“We were the original social distancing event,” Bentham joked of the 2 1/2 miles of holiday wonder now featuring a dazzling array of more than 3 million LED lights covering 750-plus installations.
In 2020, the event isn’t just a holiday tradition. It’s an escape from the walls closing in.
“People are hungry for a safe family event,” said Bentham. “With COVID-19 and families staying home, people have been calling us since summer, asking, ‘Hey, can you guys just open up now?’ ”
The light show, which runs from Nov. 13 through Jan. 10, begins at dusk and ends at 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 10 p.m. Friday, Saturday and on holidays. Features include an open-air Santa Tram, a Living Nativity conducted by various local houses of worship and the big man himself, Santa.
“There is just something magical about the holidays,” said Bentham. “It takes us back to simple times where there wasn’t as much divisiveness.”
rjmagazine: With 3 million lights, one shudders to imagine January’s bill.
John Bentham: Let’s just say we work it out with the Speedway. The truth is, because we’re using all LED lights this year, the electricity bill is something manageable … and much better than when we were using incandescent lights.
Why is a community event more important this year?
We expect to see a bump in our attendance numbers because of the 2020 triple-header of the election, COVID, and this need people have to go out and do something. A lot of companies that usually do holiday parties for the kids thought about canceling this year. Now, they’re doing drive-through Santa parties at the Speedway.
Take us through the prep time for Glittering Lights.
We have a crew of 40 people who started in mid-October and they will work nonstop for weeks to get everything set up for mid-November. It’s putting up wire, steel and lights, so it comes alive by the time we reach opening night.
What’s the toughest tech part of pulling this off?
The Speedway wasn’t designed to have power outlets everywhere, so we do run extra power. We have crews there fine-tuning and able to replace lights or fix anything that’s wrong. You don’t want Santa’s face to be lit up green. All of our light displays are created in the United States and trucked here. Piece by piece, display by display, we must fine-tune over 750 display elements. My wife, Shannon, is my partner in this event and she’s on quality control. She gives me notes.
Do your five sons participate?
All of our boys are involved in different areas. We produce shows on the Strip (Tape Face, “Defending the Caveman”), but always wanted to do something where the kids could get involved. Three of my kids help us give out gift bags and candy, one voices our commercial, one is in the print ad. It’s a family affair.
Is there pressure to really deck out your house with Christmas lights?
Some years I do better at home than others. This year, we don’t have the added pressure of six or seven residency shows, so I have more time. I think I did all right on fall and Halloween and, hopefully, will get the Christmas lights done by the time we get to mid-November. Just like any other dad or mom out there … the pressure is on.