You’re at a packed Avett Brothers concert in Syracuse, New York. The audience is on edge as the show is about to begin. The curtains drop, the music starts, neon lights are flashing everywhere, and 3,000 of your new friends break out into a roar of applause as the Avett Brothers take the stage.
Except there’s something really special about this concert. You’re the one who built the lighting display. You made the cursive neon lights happen. You’re on tour with the Avett Brothers to ensure they work properly.
That’s what Adrian Boggs did this summer.
A Wild Ride
Boggs is an instructor of art at High Point University. Back in June, Boggs got a phone call from Pete Schroth, an old work associate who’s now the stage manager and lighting director for the Avett Brothers. The band was about to go on tour for their new album “True Sadness.” Schroth needed an expert builder to create a custom, hanging LED stage lighting display to use during shows.
Boggs has decades of fabrication experience under his belt. He’s won first place a furniture design competition sponsored by The Phillips Collection, designed several accessory items currently in production at The Phillips Collection, designed and fabricated tables and seating for a Whole Foods store in Greensboro, and has been commissioned for multiple private custom furniture designs in the Triad over past 15 years.
Schroth knew of Boggs’ experience. So, he called.
“Pete and Scott Avett came up with idea of using neon, cursive letter lighting – like the old Americana neon signs you used to see everywhere,” says Boggs, who teaches 2D and 3D fundamentals courses in the School of Art and Design. “The cursive idea came from the album cover. They gave me a black piece of plywood, cut out by Scott’s friend Sean Barrier, to start with. And they handed off the rest of the parts to me.”
The pressure was on. With a couple pieces of 15-by-5-foot plywood and a few hundred feet of rope lights in hand, Boggs began building. He sectioned the rope lights off in pieces, rewired them and carefully mounted them to the plywood using clips to create the smooth, cursive design he wanted.
It sounds simple enough – but it took weeks of work. And with a client as renowned as the Avett Brothers, there was no room for error.
“It was an experimental wiring method,” Boggs says. “I called the light manufacturers to get their approval to wire them the way I did. You couldn’t overpower the LEDs, because heat kills them. Thousands and thousands of people would be looking at it. I built in as many redundancies as possible, but there were no guarantees. I just knew it couldn’t fail. And in the end, they loved it.”
After Boggs finished the lighting display, he joined the Avett Brothers for the first week of their tour to ensure it worked properly. He traveled with the crew on the tour bus for seven days and helped set up the display for shows in Maine, Connecticut, Ohio and New York.
“That experience was really cool,” Boggs says. “Seeing my work on display in front of a bunch of people was rewarding. Everyone was totally into it. At that moment when the curtain drops, the crowd goes nuts and you think, ‘Yeah, this is awesome!’”
Like Boggs, faculty at HPU are experts in the fields they teach. Professors don’t simply lecture classes; they mentor students, provide networking opportunities and impart real-world wisdom learned from years of experience in the field. After all, HPU prepare students for the world as it’s going to be. Professors know how their industry is changing now to prepare graduates for how it will be in the future.
It’s why HPU faculty serve as editors for industry publications. Why they direct the CNN pool feed for the Democratic National Convention. Why they present research at prestigious conferences. And why they build neon lights for the Avett Brothers. These types of hands-on experiences give students the opportunity to learn from industry pros – and get a leg up on the competition.
“Adrian Boggs is an inspiration on campus, in the surrounding community and in the design world as a whole,” says HPU senior Hannah Grau, an interior design major. “I was blind to design before I had his class. You will design, appreciate and experience everything differently not only after taking a class with him, but even after having a simple conversation or cup of coffee with him. Adrian Boggs never ceases to inspire, never steers from challenges, and never settles for anything less than brilliant.”
So, Boggs uses his time with the Avett Brothers as a tool for instruction.
“It reflects what we teach in the visual merchandising program at HPU: We design something for a client who is trying to reach an audience – in this case, a literal audience. This was an outstanding opportunity for me to create a lighting system with a tailored visual effect for a very discriminating client.”
He says the experience helped him better understand the power of presentation. The lighting display he created was one component in a bigger project. In the same way, every element of a design must work together in harmony, like pieces of a puzzle.
“Concerts are an intentionally designed orchestra of moving parts,” he says. “It’s visual, psychological, material, musical, vocal. The same goes for interior design or visual merchandising. All the pieces of a design have to be considered. Everything influences every other thing.”
“Design is a recipe,” Boggs tells students. “Too much sugar, salt, baking soda or eggs can ruin it. So we must learn how to balance the right space, form, line weight and color. Ask yourself, ‘Am I saying what I need to say in the most effective way, through the simplest, smallest details? Does it look how I want it to look, so it feels how I want it to feel?’
“I tell students to take design seriously and learn it well – all the ins and outs of it. And when they do, they’ll excel.”