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Bandit Lites Celebrates 45 years
Nashville, Tennessee – In 1968, gas was 28 cents a gallon, man had not set foot on the moon, telephones all had wires attached, and a simple computer took up 10,000 square feet. Laugh In was the number one TV show, the Vietnam War was in full swing, The Beatles were at their zenith, Nixon was elected President, Led Zeppelin first performed and 60 Minutes debuted on TV.
Live concerts normally played under ceiling lights in National Guard Armories or basketball gyms. A few people were beginning to apply theatrical lighting to concerts, and those people used psychedelic names for their firms like Blood Lights, Heavy Water Lights, Pig Lights, Joes Lights, Joshua, Brotherhood of Light and such. Bands called The Moody Blues, Alice Cooper, ZZ Top and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were just beginning. A 12 year old kid in Kingsport, Tennessee wanted to work with these and other acts, so he began “borrowing” lights from the local high school and doing shows with The Grassroots, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, The Beach Boys, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Dennis Yost and the Classics Four, BJ Thomas and others of the day. That kid was Michael T. Strickland, and he appropriately named his new firm Bandit Lites, as all the gear was “borrowed”.
Things worked as planned and Strickland took Bandit through high school, through college at The University of Tennessee and into the real world. By then firms such as Synergy, TASCO, TFA, Showlites, Vari-Lite, LSD, Obie, McManus and See Factor were formed. Bandit was the only firm located in the Deep South and was often criticized for their location, as the others tended to be located in major metropolitan areas. But Michael and the staff at Bandit knew two things: the cost of doing business was lower and Knoxville, Tennessee was in the geographical center of the touring market. These factors proved to be a huge advantage to Bandit through time. At this point Bandit decided that a focus on people and quality would be the vision that steered the company.
As Bandit grew and expanded, they would start Thomas Engineering US and Tomcat US, and purchase Avolites US, moving it to Knoxville. The staff at Bandit was involved in critical design of a number of trussing and dimming and control products from 1982 through 1994, by which time Bandit had divested itself of all involvement with the firms it started or acquired. The famed Thomas and Tomcat roof systems were first conceived, engineered and built in Knoxville. Within a few years these top systems had become industry standards. Bandit spawned the US acceptance of Thomas Pre Rigged Truss and the 6 Lamp bar. While other English firms certainly pioneered the concepts, Bandit was the US firm that grasped them and helped expand them into broad acceptance in the US.
As moving lights became commercially available, Bandit partnered with High End Systems to advance their original offerings and become the first alternative to the Vari-Lite dominance. Bandit then partnered with Martin and became the first firm aside from Vari-Lite to offer over 1500 moving lights in a one stop shop. These partnerships proved fruitful for all concerned, as well as for the industry. Bandit expanded its offerings and partnered with Vari-Lite in the late 1990s and continued its growth. Offices were opened in San Francisco, London, Dublin, Hong Kong and Taiwan along the way. Bandit also began successful relationships with Robe, GLP, Coemar, Clay Paky and Chauvet in recent years.
In 1996 Bandit Lites won its first Light Company of the Year award and has continued that tradition to this day. Bandit has won a collective 21 Lighting Company of the Year awards in the US and Europe, the latest being November 23, 2013 with the Parnelli Award for Lighting Company of the Year.
Beginning in the 90’s Bandit Lites won a string of business awards outside the entertainment industry. In 1999 USA Today / CNN named Bandit Lites the Entrepreneurial Company of the year, an award won by people such as Bill Gates and Michael Dell. Mass Mutual awarded Bandit its prestigious Blue Chip Award. Both Knoxville and Nashville put Bandit Lites into their Business Hall of Fames, as well as naming Bandit the best company in the respective cities. Belmont University bestowed the prestigious Robert E. Mulloy Award of Excellence on Bandit in 2012. The University of Tennessee has bestowed several awards on Bandit Lites. The City of Kingsport gifted the Keys to the City to Bandit Lites in 2009 for the global success enjoyed by the firm.
In recent history Bandit has moved fully and whole heartedly into the new LED technology as a world leader in this endeavor. Bandit introduced the GRNLite range of LED fixtures, as well as its own 5x5 audience blinder and a move into video with F&P video walls. Bandit has embraced the various LED offerings from the many fine manufacturers in the market place. The most recent addition is the appointment of Bandit as the distributor of the evolutionary Parasol continuous motion trussing systems. These wonderful new products are the only ones of their kind in the market and are enjoying tremendous success with the new partnership.
Bandit offers free rehearsal space to clients in its custom built Venue One in Nashville and assures every show leaves Bandit pre-built, labelled, tested and ready to do a show. Making the designer and the artists show a reality is Bandits’ driving force, while making sure the quality is the world’s best. The Bandit Lites focus on quality is what has propelled Bandit to its position in the market. Bandit trains and invests in staff in a manner unequalled by any other firm, in a time when using freelance crew is at an all-time high. Bandit believes people are its greatest strength and practice the philosophy of Humanomics it invented 20 plus years ago.
Today, gas is no longer 28 cents, many men have set foot on the moon, phones have long been wireless and a computer fits in the palm of your hand. Laugh In, Vietnam, The Beatles, Nixon and Led Zeppelin are now all ancient memories. All the dominant lighting firms of days gone by have long since vanished. Shows are now in stadiums, arenas and theaters, and they all have lighting. Yes, much has changed since 1968, but one thing still endures. Bandit Lites is 45 years old this year and is still focused on delivering the highest quality people and service in the world. Oh, and Bandit has had The Moody Blues, Alice Cooper, ZZ Top and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as clients for many, many years. In the words of Hannibal Smith, “I love it when a plan comes together”. Michael Golden, Dizzy Gosnell, Pete Heffernan, Brent Barrett and Lee Anne Cooke have each been at Bandit 20 or more years, and serve to guide the company. Michael T. Strickland is still at the helm, though a little older.
And by the way, 60 Minutes is still on the air!
4th December 2013
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