It’s dark. We’re waiting inside the glass-paned Palm House at Longwood Gardens, leaning over the railing of the walkway that wraps around a display of towering palm trees. Their trunks and leaves are illuminated in a vibrant red, blue, green, and the room, flush with visitors in every corner, is buzzing with anticipation.
Nightscape is about to begin.
At 9:30 p.m., the music starts — ambient, doomy, electronic music you might hear at a warehouse in North Philly. Not Kennett Square. Not surrounded by parents keeping one eye on their toddlers, grandparents clutching walkers and riding motorized scooters.
But that’s where we are, here in Longwood Gardens, and the colorful lights have started to jump and change, giving the palm fronds a different kind of life. A nightlife. The light is dancing across them and we are spellbound.
Longwood Gardens opened Nightscape, its experimental light show designed by Klip Collective’s Ricardo Rivera, Wednesday night to a sold out crowd. It was a daring move for the institution, which, if opening night was any indication, is largely patronized by baby boomers. It definitely felt like an effort to attract a younger, city-dwelling crowd to the gardens. They even installed a Victory beer garden.
(We’ve noticed that Longwood Gardens has been dipping a toe into the tech scene lately. They participated in a hackathon last year and their staffers came out to Philly Tech Week 2015 presented by Comcast’s Future of Digital Media conference. They also, full disclosure, had a sponsored content package with us, of which this piece is not a part.)
The obvious description of the show: trippy. It made us feel like we were back in college, captivated by the iTunes visualizer after having ingested a substance or two. (We weren’t the only ones. Everyone was talking about psychedelics.)
It was also a pleasure to see the garden let its hair down. The night had a little of the chaos of a music festival after dark, everyone scrambling to figure out what to see next, eager not to miss out, while ushers with glow sticks around their necks showed the way. Not what you’d expect from a hundred-year-old institution. They even hosted an Instagram meetup, led by Albert Lee aka @urphillypal, at opening night. See the results here.
Nightscape runs on weekends until October and only at night, though you can go during the day and come back at night for a full-blown experience.
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