When the lights go out, the band begins to play

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 1:14 pm on Thursday, December 08, 2011

lights out at black field: Greenville’s marching band performs its signature halftime show.

Black Field has been a home to countless traditions over the years.

Old ones have faded away as new ones have been introduced. Since 1975 there’s been a special moment each football season when fans have held their breath and let out a yell in excitement as the field fell into an absolute darkness.

Out of that darkness emerged a formation of glowing lights attached to each member of the Greenville High School Marching Band, spread out across the field. Once the band began to play and move about the field, the tradition of the “Lights Out” halftime show brought the field to life, reminding fans of why Black Field was indeed such a unique athletic field.

Former Greenville High School band director Keith Hudson brought the tradition of a halftime show performed in complete darkness in his first year of teaching at Greenville in 1975.

“When I started doing it at Greenville, we were the only band I know of that was doing a lights out halftime show,” Hudson said. “We would do a different show every week. Lights out was unique because it let us perform the same show from the previous week, but it looked completely different.”

Today, band members cover themselves and their instruments in glow sticks, but Hudson said glow sticks weren’t widely available when he started a lights out show at a previous high school.

“Back when I started teaching, glow sticks were unheard of,” Hudson said. “We used tube lights, which were powered by batteries. When glow sticks did come out in the mid-1970s, they were just so expensive.”

“When I was an assistant director at North Branch High School before I came to Greenville, we used flashlights and taped them to the feet of students,” he said. “There is so much more you can do with the show today.”

Throughout the years, lights out has evolved along with other traditions at Black Field. From one glow stick per student to flashing LED lights, to being saved for the last home game of every season, the show has been solidified as a fixture of entertainment that comes once a year every football season.
Current Band Director Susan Gould took over for Hudson in 1991 and never hesitated to make sure the spectacle continued every year at Black Field.

“For me, lights out has taken on a lot of different parameters because the novelties are more available and are fairly inexpensive,” Gould said. “I’ve started using LED lights, flashing rings and all sorts of great things that look fabulous in the dark, short of explosives and fireworks. I even had a student juggle a fire baton one year.”

Gould said lights out shows were fairly popular in the 1970s because high school bands were trying to do more things visually that would be flashy, exciting and keep the crowd involved.

But according to Gould, the shows died out just as quickly as they caught on when football fields were renovated and lighting systems were implemented that didn’t have a quick response time.

“Very few schools were able to continue on the tradition of lights out because when you would turn off the stadium lights, it would take 15 to 20 minutes for them to come back on at full capacity.”

The lights out halftime show has been a tradition at Black Field for more than 35 years thanks to the lack of upgrades to the lights at Black Field over the years. More modern lights easily could have killed the tradition.

The current lights at Black Field were upgraded in 1974 with a quick response time, not taking long to turn on after being turned off. As a result, lights out was able to continue at Black Field because newer lights that may have taken longer to turn back on were never installed.

With the new stadium located next to the current High School, Gould said she has been told by Superintendent Peter Haines that the lights will have a quick response time, much like at Black Field, allowing for the lights out show to continue for years to come.

“We’ll protect lights out and other traditions like the march to the stadium and add some new flashy things for our pregame show,” Gould said. “Lights out is always a special moment. It’s a great show and the audience loves it. When visitors come to watch, they’re amazed. They haven’t seen something like that before. The roar of the crowd in the dark, there’s nothing else quite like it.”

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