The End of the Park on Nine Mile in Hazel Park is usually a mild-mannered neighborhood drinking spot. But on Wednesday nights LightShow Bob transforms it into a flashing, pulsing rock spectacle.
LightShow Bob Bergh, 38, is no ordinary light man, twiddling knobs and flicking switches in the wings. He shreds onstage, alongside the bands. His head bobs, his eyes squeeze shut, his fingers fly furiously over his “lightar,” a portable control panel of his own invention that triggers what at the End of the Park is a modest assortment of lights, lasers, smoke machines and bubble machines.
“I play lights, vs. running lights,” he says in the bar’s back room. “The band has the sound aspect and I have the visual aspect. With the proper equipment I can have a pretty heavy impact.”
“I don’t overshadow the band,” he says. “I highlight their music. Everyone has their place — you know, the guitarist has his solo, that’s his place. I have mine.”
The lightar is the most unusual part of Bergh’s act. He describes it as “a ‘mother of invention’-type deal”: “It just felt natural. I don’t play an instrument but I knew I could make the lights look a certain way to go with the music. I just kept working on it and working on it.”
Since debuting with his lightar six years ago, Bergh has built a considerable reputation playing alongside local bands such as More Monkey Than Man and the Reefermen. He has lit shows at the Hockeytown Cafe, the Dally in the Alley and the annual Heatstock summer festival in Fostoria.
The Hazel Park father and licensed builder shares few details about his offstage life. He taught himself lighting and built about half of his equipment at home. He sang occasionally in a blues band and dabbled in lights until one fateful night when inspiration struck.
“I was here one night running my light show, and a buddy of mine came and flipped the power off. I didn’t see him, I just flipped the power back on and kept running my show. Now, he did this, like, three times. I finally realized he was there and I says, ‘How long have you been here?’ and he says, ‘Oh, about half an hour.’”
Bergh leans forward for emphasis. “I didn’t even realize he was there, I was so into what I was doing. Just reached over and flipped the light on, didn’t even have to think about it.”
For most people this might not have meant much, but for Bergh it was an epiphany: “At that very moment I realized that I’d found something I could do with more of my heart and mind than anything ever in my life.”
One of LightShow Bob’s closest collaborators is Detroit Video Man, Tom Sarnowski, 49, a Warren-based photographer and videographer who specializes in covering the Detroit-area music scene.
“LightShow Bob is a local dynamo,” he says, adding that when they work together, audiences “really get off on the light show. They always talk to him about, what the heck is he playing? When they realize what’s going on, they appreciate the lights even more.”
Hazel Park guitarist Ricky Lentz, 24, leads the Wednesday night house band at the End of the Park. What’s it like working with LightShow Bob every week? “You know, it’s nice having someone working the lights and stuff, reacting to the music,” Lentz says.
And is having Bergh on stage like sitting in with another musician? “Yeah, sure,” Lentz says, taking a swig of his beer. “It’s right on. He gets satisfaction from his work.”
Bergh is inspired by “the love of the business, the love of the music, the stage, the notoriety.” His biggest project is Hoodstock, a local rock showcase that he has organized for the past several summers. “The spirit of it is that I never really make any money off of it, it’s to bring different bands together and give them exposure to bar and club owners, different media people, for promo purposes. … It’s kind of a modern-day Woodstock, in a way. But it’s in the city, that’s why it’s ‘Hoodstock.’”
“It’s like one big party,” Bergh laughs. “We’ve got a pool and a fire pit and a stage. We build risers and we’ve got a VIP area. All these bands come and play over two days.” Last year’s Hoodstock was headlined by Self Inflicted and featured other local acts including the Ricky Lentz Band, JR 7, Metaphysical Jones and More Monkey Than Man.
What’s next for LightShow Bob? “I’m trying to work up to the ‘next level’ of bands. I’d like to do shows with Brothers Groove, Thornetta Davis, the Sun Messengers.” And he hopes to host a special guest at this year’s Hoodstock: “We’re trying to get backstage passes to Kid Rock. We want him to come anonymously, so he can just hang out with the musicians and be himself.”
“I’d love to do a show for Kid Rock,” he adds with a grin. “He’s a showman and a half.”
Until then, LightShow Bob will continue to light up the local rock world with his own show-and-a-half, lightar in hand.Ian M. LeBlanc is an editorial intern at Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org