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To Save Trees, Travis Threlkel Is Lighting Them on Fire

A light show and a rock concert combine for environmental awareness.

Taylor Lindsay

What better way to increase environmental awareness than lighting trees on fire at a rock concert? Starry Nites, an outdoor performance in the mountains Santa Barbara on May 18–19, will feature exactly that. Sidenote: the flames will actually be the results of intricate light projections, but Fire Eyes, the work, will still be lit. Travis Threlkel is bringing it to the two-day musical event in order to create an environmental call to action.

The event is part-music festival featuring The Kills, Sky Parade, The Dandy Warhols and at least 20 more, and part-environmental call-to-action. As the founder of Obscura Digital, Threlkel has been creating rule-bending experiments with light since he was a teenager. He's known for both his literally outside-the-box projections and for being the former guitarist and founding member of a little band called the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Tommy Dietrick, frontman of Sky Parade, and the festival's coordinator, has been friends with Threlkel since he was 14.

"Travis is intentionally using fire and trees, sort of representation of 'The Tree of Knowledge,'" Dietrick tells Creators. "The oaks are ablaze, and in this light-fire, not unlike the endangered species used in Threlkel's projections on the Empire State building, you're going to see images of the wildlife and nature that we're losing. It's an environmental call to action."

They're inviting the audience to be in on the action as well. People can walk up to the projection lenses, put themselves in front of it, and appear on the giant tree-backed light show. "It's a reminder that we're part of the same story," Dietrick tells us. 

The concept came from a conversation between Dietrick and Threlkel a few years back. The "Wouldn't it be nice to do something together" sentiment became a work-intensive reality after Dietrick continued to remind Threlkel about it. When they finally settled on a Live Oak as their show's location, it turned into a bigger concept. Threlkel said at the time, "I know I said originally I just had an installation to do on the trees, but these mountains really want to talk." Thus the plan expanded to include projections on the mountains as well. They're a half-mile away, but Threlkel's projection mapping technology makes it possible.

Dietrick gives us a visual on the show, which he expects will draw a few thousand people. "There will be less stage visuals because we're lighting the grounds and the mountains around us. We're drawing their attention up and outwards." In a video previewing the event, Threlkel says that this will create a rousing effect, that of trees and mountains "screaming to be saved."

"No one's ever done this. It's not about the light show - that's been done. We wanted to make something with a message," Dietrick says. 

Desert Stars Festival and Starry Records present Starry Nites Festival at their 42 acre ranch located in the mountains of Santa Barbara at Live Oak Campground (4600 Highway 154). Learn more about the festival on their website and see more from Travis Threlkel here.

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