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250,000 bulbs of cheer

Jan Hearne • Dec 3, 2012 at 11:41 AM

ELIZABETHTON — When it comes to Christmas decorations, Roger Forbes doesn’t do things in half measures. His light display, started “six or seven” years ago, has grown in scope and degree of difficulty with each passing holiday season. This year, he’s added a live concert on Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. with Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Judy Pancoast.

Pancoast will perform at the Forbes’ home, 708 Holston Ave. in Elizabethton, free of charge, but those who come to listen and look at the lights are asked to bring a donation for Make-A-Wish and Second Harvest Food Bank (a nonperishable food item).

Pancoast will be visiting Elizabethton as part of her third annual “The House on Christmas Street International Tour,” in support of her new CD “Christmas with Mrs. Claus.”

Concerts on the tour will be performed on the lawns and in the driveways of the decorating enthusiasts who use her music in their animated lighting displays.

Pancoast is best known for her four albums of original music for children and her family concerts. In 2011, she was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Children’s Album for “Weird Things are Everywhere.”

She’s performed twice in concert at the request of President Bill Clinton. The organizers of the New York City fundraiser for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and Robert DeNiro’s Tribeca Family Street Fair have asked Pancoast to return year after year.

She has traveled twice to Nairobi to work with the children at the Nyumbani Orphanage in Kenya.

Pancoast’s concert in Elizabethton will feature original songs from her two Christmas CDs as well as traditional favorites and sing-alongs.

After the concert, hot chocolate, candy canes and cookies for the kids will be served.

Forbes, creator of the “Forbes Family Christmas,” has been working for weeks on his light display, which features more than 250,000 lights with 485 channels of computer controls set to music and broadcast on the Forbes Family Christmas Network at 106.7 FM.

“I’ve been in electronics all my life. I had a ham radio when I was 9 years old and retired after 40 years with Century Link,” he said. The progression from Christmas decorations to Christmas extravaganza was a natural one.

“The first year I took a bunch of relays that switched lights on and off to music. The next year I went to automated control devices, then got into Light-O-Rama data control. Next thing you know you’ve got 250,000 lights and 2 miles of extension cords,” he said. “It’s Christmas with a capital C.”

The current light display “is not automated,” Forbes said, “it’s all done by hand. For a three-minute song, it takes 16-24 hours to do. You have to tell every light when to come on and when to go off.”

Songs include “Amazing Grace,” “Jingle Bells,” “Joy to the World” and “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”

Forbes also programs decidedly nontraditional songs like “Deep Space,” just for the sake of doing them, he said.

The displays include “a great big, giant Santa Claus and a great big, giant mega tree,” Forbes said.

Does wife Mary support him in his annual endeavor?

“She sent me down to Hathaway-Percy for measurements,” he said and laughed. “No, she’s worse into it than I am.”

For more information, call Forbes at 957-4847.

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