Bandit Lite’s Michael T. Strickland to Receive Parnelli Visionary Award
LAS VEGAS – The Parnelli Board of Advisors has announced that Michael T. Strickland will receive the Parnelli Visionary Award at the 19th annual ceremony on Jan. 17, 2020. Getting his start with “borrowed” gear as a 12-year-old, Strickland’s company now has more than 400 employees based in multiple locations in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
“In so many ways, Michael is a true visionary,” says Terry Lowe, Parnelli Awards Executive Producer and publisher of PLSN and FRONT of HOUSE magazines. “In the 1960s, as a mere kid, he saw a business and an industry that few others could even imagine. Starting in a small town in eastern Tennessee at age 12, hiring others in his early teens, and then running a successful company out of his college dorm room, he molded a model business for others to try to follow. His influence on people who work in this industry and the artists we all serve is far-reaching.”
As a boy growing up in Kingsport, TN, Strickland loved music. He took a shot at playing the drums and singing but alas neither worked out. But when he saw the lighting supporting an Andy Williams concert, something clicked. After a Beach Boys concert shortly thereafter, he found the promoter and asked if he would like use his lights for the next Beach Boys show – for a mere $25, “which seemed like a huge amount of money to a 12-year-old in 1968,” Strickland points out. They agreed, and the resourceful youth “borrowed” the lights in the high school for the show (always returning them). Strickland continued to approach other bands, and he quickly proved he had a talent beyond pilfering lighting gear. “I didn’t have any knowledge back then, but neither did the people I was working for, so anything and everything I did was correct. The color I used was right. The mood I set was right. There was no wrong for these people, nor was there any wrong for me.” Bandit Lites was founded.
He hired a couple of friends who could drive, and soon he was lighting many concerts within a 300-mile radius of his hometown. His growing list of clients included the Monkees, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and the Grass Roots. He continued to grow the company when he went to college in Knoxville. He would even get a law degree while simultaneously being lighting director/PM for Kenny Rogers during his huge 1977-78 The Gambler tour. In 1982, he expanded into Nashville adding rock acts like REM, The Pretenders, Neil Young and metal acts like Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister and Krokus to his client list beyond country’s greatest acts. 1988 marked the beginning of a long relationship with Garth Brooks, as Brooks raised the bar for country music in that he had the vision for his show to have a lighting rig as full and spectacular as any rock act, and Bandit obliged. Bandit was there when he played Central Park in 1997, which still holds the record for a single show attendance with over a million people. Kenny Rogers and Garth Brooks, along with Jimmy Buffett, Shinedown, Carrie Underwood, Alice Cooper, Toby Keith, Jason Aldean, Barry Manilow and scores of others are all served by Bandit today. Today the kid from Kingsport oversees 400-plus employees in offices in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Beyond concerts, Bandit provides lighting for film, television, theater, and architectural design and also provides installation and consultation. All controlled from a headquarters in Knoxville.
Passion seems to have been with Strickland from the beginning, and he looks for the passion in others. “Surround yourself with people of passion, and treat them well,” he says. He learned from those who didn’t. Working early shows in the 1970s, he saw how other pioneering entertainment company owners treated their crew. He saw crew members treated badly, without respect. He knew instinctively that was wrong on many levels, including being bad for business. Forgoing the standard of just throwing 1099s at as many as possible, he brought worthy crewmembers on board with benefits.
“I started working with Michael in 1976 when we took Blackfoot out on their first headline dates, and then as in now he has always set the bar high in the lighting business,” says production professional and Parnelli Board member Stephen Gudis. “Being from East Tennessee, he found the best people in the area to represent his company. Some are still with him today while the others moved on to be successful technicians and designers in their own right, something he’s proud of. Quality gear and people have made him successful. Also, he put Knoxville on the map, and I and others thank him for that!”
Strickland will receive the Parnelli Visionary Award at the 19th annual Parnelli Awards on Jan. 17, 2020 at the Hilton Anaheim, located next to the Anaheim Convention Center. The ceremony will take place during NAMM’s annual convention and as part of NAMM Live.
For more information, please visit www.parnelliawards.com.