See your music in lights with new Dix Park neon installation

Music controlled neon lights illuminate Dix Park trees

Neon artist Nate Sheaffer's "Light the Woods with Sound" installation piece contains nearly 400 neon lights controlled by sound.
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Neon artist Nate Sheaffer's "Light the Woods with Sound" installation piece contains nearly 400 neon lights controlled by sound.

Raleigh-based neon artist Nate Sheaffer constantly has ideas for what to do with neon.

Sheaffer, a neon glass-blower, has been blowing glass for decades. He produces retail neon signs, and in his work as an artist, has built sculptures and neon installations for Raleigh companies like the Five Points Bar and the Ritz.

His newest piece — "Light the Woods with Sound" at Dix Park — takes his neon to another level.

"It's gonna be an unusual thing to see," Sheaffer said. "We're putting half a mile or more of neon tubing in trees and lighting it up and coordinating it with sound and musicians."

The work debuts May 11 and will be on display Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights through May 27. Admission is free.

The 384 neon lights, hanging from oak trees, will be synced up to musical instruments like keyboards, synthesizers, percussive drum kits and theremins (an electronic musical instrument controlled without contact).

People will be invited to play the instruments to create music. The sound will be converted into an electronic signal that results in different colored arrangements in the neon lights above.

It will be like seeing your music in lights.

"Whether they play them well or not, we'll see," Sheaffer said with a laugh.

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Nate Sheaffer s "Light the Woods with Sound" installation piece contains nearly 400 neon lights suspended in trees and controlled by sound. Travis Long

Every piece is hand blown. Machines can't even create customized glass pieces, Sheaffer said.

Sheaffer, who calls himself a "neon tube bender," has three decades of glass-making experience, he said, and is one of the few people in the country still in the craft.

A graduate of UNC, he founded Neon Impressions Inc. in 1986 and produced retail neon signs. Now he owns Glas, a studio in the Dock 1053 warehouse.

Seeing such elaborate neon art-work is a rare opportunity, he said.

The work was commissioned by the Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy, the Office of Raleigh Arts and the City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department.

Each night of the weekend will have a different way to interact with the lights.

On Fridays, people can play with the instruments. On Saturdays, there will be live concerts with local musicians playing on the instruments.

On Sundays, Sheaffer will be at Dix Park to talk about the art piece and answer questions about how it works.

Sheaffer picked the oak trees for "Light the Woods with Sound" for one simple reason: It's the nicest spot in the park, he said.

Standing under the neon, everyone has a great view of downtown Raleigh.

"I like the challenge of engaging anyone off the street to interact with art where they come away with a meaningful experience," said Sheaffer.

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Neon artist Nate Sheaffer's tests equipment for his "Light the Woods with Sound" installation piece Saturday, May 5, 2018 at Dix Park. The interactive installation contains nearly 400 neon lights controlled by sound. Travis Long


Location: Dorothea Dix Park, Flowers Field, 2105 Umstead Drive, Raleigh.

Most events are from 7 to 10 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. Food trucks will be on site Fridays and Saturdays with breweries on Saturdays. Admission to the events is free, but registration is encouraged. Go to

Opening weekend

May 11: Jam Session

May 12: Opening night concert with "Cinematic Symphonies" and "Dance Dance Dance" as themes

May 13: Meet the artist, 8 p.m.

Hoopla Weekend

May 18: Jam Session. Bring a hula hoop.

May 19: Concert with psychedelic music and hula hoops

May 20: Meet the artist, 8 p.m.

Lo-Fi Sci-Fi Weekend

May 25: Jam Session

May 26: Concert with science fiction and cosplay themes. Dress up. Decorate bikes with neon and glow sticks and bike from downtown Raleigh.

May 27: Meet the artist, 8 p.m.

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