Relix 44: Lighting Designer Chris Ragan
Welcome to the Relix 44. To commemorate the past 44 years of our existence, we’ve created a list of people, places and things that inspire us today, appearing in our September 2018 issue and rolling out on Relix.com throughout this fall. See all the articles posted so far here.
Letting It Shine: Chris Ragan
Back on October 20, 1984 Chris Ragan attended his first Grateful Dead show at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. At the time, he was an eighth grader and, as he recalls, “I had a friend whose parents were professors at the University and all of the sudden people started camping all over their neighborhood. I saw all the t-shirts with skulls so I figured that the Grateful Dead was a heavy metal band. At that time I was into rap music, not metal, but we ended up meeting some of the Heads and we got tickets to the show. From the first note I had this giant feeling of community and I wanted to be part of that.” Over 30 years later he is, serving as Dead & Company’s show director/lighting director/lighting designer.
It’s been quite a journey over the intervening years that found him touring with moe., Gov’t Mule, The Strokes, Secret Machines, Common and other acts while lighting up such festivals as Lockn’, Firefly, Electric Daisy Carnival NYC and Mountain Jam. He’s also worked with Chris Kuroda at Phish’s Magnaball, creating a 360 degree, immersive lighting experience around the concert field.
Ragan was a promising oil painter who had moved into sculpture at Syracuse University when, in 1993, he partnered with his neighbor, Mimi Fishman (the mother of Phish’s drummer) in Ragfish Productions to create stage backdrops and T-shirt designs. He also began experimenting with building his own light boxes and after meeting the guys in moe., “I ended up flipping some switches on the lighting console when they played at a little local club. The next thing I knew, we were down at the Wetlands and I’m flicking some more switches and I just wouldn’t leave them alone. I was like, ‘You guys need to hire me.’ And looking at it all now, it was completely insane because although I thought it was a logical thing to do, they could barely feed themselves.” However, Ragan remained persistent, selling his Harley and buying three automated lights he began using with moe.
Ragan is now an account executive and designer at BML Blackbird, while also pursuing some projects with his own Raygun Designs. In the fall of 2015 after operating lights at Lockn’ for the Billy & The Kids show with special guest Bob Weir, he received an invitation to tour with Dead & Company. It’s a massive endeavor: along with the main lighting console, Jim Rood assists in programming, while Johnathan Singer generates video content as the live visual artist.
“When they first called me,” Ragan remembers, “all I knew was that they were going to play Madison Square Garden, which is the ultimate place for me to do a show. It all just took off from there and it’s been everything I could have hoped for and probably a little bit more.”
This article originally appears in the September 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.