Enchant opened its gates for the first time at First Horizon Park Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee, delighting thousands of kids of all ages.
It was a sneak-peek preview of the event, which officially opened Friday, and Enchant invited some 3,000 people involved with 30 local charities to experience the light maze, the massive illuminated reindeer, life-sized snowflakes, live elves and the 100-foot bright white Christmas tree.
The Nashville Sounds' guitar-shaped scoreboard showered guests with gently falling digital snow while parents tried to keep up with kids running in multiple directions through the glow and sparkle of lights.
While Enchant is new to Nashville, it's an event that's been growing since Founder Kevin Johnston's first public holiday light show in 2016 in his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia.
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It was so successful the city of Vancouver asked him not to do it again.
"We ended up hosting 10% of the population of Vancouver," he told The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network. "It was mind-blowing. The city called me into a board meeting after the run and said, 'we can't let you do this again because you caused too much traffic.' We knew we had stumbled on something people loved."
Johnston set out to find a more capable venue for his 2017 show. He couldn't find one in Vancouver, so he started making cold calls. Then, it dawned on him that baseball isn't in season in December, so one of his calls was to the Texas Rangers organization in Arlington, Texas. The Rangers allowed him to set up a show in their parking lot. While that one was successful, too, it would create a ripple effect that reached across the country.
"It was a big leap of faith," Johnston said. "We had to get work visas and build a whole new team. It ended up being the biggest show we'd ever done. The show went from 11 containers of equipment to 50, and we hosted a quarter of a million people."
That success led to calls from the Seattle Mariners. Then the Tampa Bay Rays and Washington Nationals. Johnston's light show extravaganza had found a new home – Major League Baseball stadiums. The show ended up moving inside the ballpark, and he did two stadiums in 2018. Then three in 2019. It was going to be six cities in 2020, but the show got sidelined by COVID-19. This year, Johnston's Enchant is doing nine shows in eight cities (two in Las Vegas).
What is it exactly?
Enchant is a light show on steroids. Yes, it has four million lights, but it also has a light maze, live entertainment, an ice skating trail, local craft and food vendors and, of course, Santa Claus.
Enchant's Chief Marketing Officer LeeAnne Stables said there are two main things that set 'Enchant' apart from other holiday light show experiences: the scale of the event and the story guests get to be a part of.
"This is literally the largest Christmas light maze anywhere," Stables said. "The scope of the entire event is why we are in baseball stadiums. It's 10 acres. It's a giant spread of elements. Every year, the show is based on a story. The one we are bringing to Nashville is called 'The Great Search' so when you arrive, you get a little passport and you are searching for Santa's reindeer. When you find one, you get a stamp in your passport. At the end you have a chance to win a visit to the set of a Hallmark movie."
It wouldn't be a Nashville event without live music and Enchant has three stages with seating and heated spots to help ward off the cold. There are activations by the presenting sponsor, Hallmark Channel, including a wine bar in the middle of the maze.
"No one else is doing this to the scope of what we are doing," Stables said. "It's Christmas on a silver platter for all ages."
And it all grew out of Johnston stringing Christmas lights for his neighbors in Vancouver. Now, he said, the company is spending roughly $10 million to produce these shows.
"We employ world-class people from around the world," he said. "We’ve created an interactive, fun family experience. Our age demographic is super wide. We have great food and beverage. It's a premium but quintessential holiday experience."
Melonee Hurt covers growth and development at The Tennessean, part of the USA Today Network - Tennessee. Reach Melonee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Enchant' brings snow, 4 million lights across the country