In a new interview segment, Phish lighting designer Chris Kuroda explains the unlikely series of events that led to him becoming one of the most well-known figures in his profession and landing a “dream job” working with the New York Rangers and New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. The video, entitled “Make It Shine with Chris Kuroda”, was produced by Madison Square Garden in conjunction with Squarespace.
As Kuroda—often referred to as “CK5” due to the “fifth Beatle” nature of his involvement with Phish—explains in the clip, “I’m self-taught. I did not go to lighting design school or major in lighting design.” In fact, he had more musical ambitions: “I was an aspiring guitar player, so I asked the best guitar player in Burlington to give me lessons, which was Trey [Anastasio].”
Continues Kuroda, “One day during a lesson, he asked me if I knew someone that wanted to help carry gear from the stage of Nectar’s to the van. And I said, ‘I know someone—I’ll do it!'” Taking that gig put him in the right place at the right time: when the guy running the lights had to go to the bathroom during the show and asked Chris to man the controls while he was gone. “The song was ‘[Fly] Famous Mockingbird’. I knew the song so I just made the changes with the song. The next week, [Trey] called me up and said, ‘You’re gonna be going lights, the other guy can’t make it.’ And I said, ‘I don’t even know how to set ’em up!’ And Trey said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out together.'”
Cut to Chris’ senior year of college: Phish was heading to Colorado to play a series of shows that would require him to miss three weeks of class, essentially forfeiting the semester and his degree in the process. As Kuroda says, “I just knew it in my heart that these guys had it. And I remember contacting my parents and telling them that I was going to do this. ‘After all this money we spent on college, you’re just gonna stop going in the middle of your senior year—to follow a band around?’ Yeah, I am.”
His creative role in the band’s live shows increased as they invited him to use his imagination with the rig, asking “What have you been dying to do?” Kuroda had lots of ideas, but his main mission was simple: “We wanted people to walk out of the room at the end of the night and say ‘I’ve never seen that before. Nobody’s doing that.'”
The rest of the interview goes into the more recent developments in his career, including how he was recruited by the New York Knicks’ in-game entertainment team to write light shows and produce projections for fans at The Garden, even when Phish isn’t playing. “Being a New York guy, being a Ranger fan, being a Knicks fan, I’m not shy to say it was a dream job,” Kuroda explains. “I have no more accomplishments that I need to accomplish.”
[Cover images via “Make It Shine with Chris Kuroda”]