Want to amaze out-of-town guests this holiday season? Head over to 10732 Honeynut Drive, in the Allyson Park neighborhood, between the hours of 6-10 p.m. Kevin Cook has put up a remarkable Christmas light display in his yard that is synchronized to music.
From Dec. 4-30, Cook can be found amid the glow of 80,000 lights, with a bucket in hand as he hands out candy canes and collects donations for A Child's Place, a charity for homeless children in Charlotte.
Synchronized to music
The light display is synchronized to 20 minutes of music that is broadcast on 100.3 FM, a low-power FM radio station.
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Here's the best part: You don't even need to roll down your car window to enjoy the music and lights - just tune your radio to the station.
Kids and adults are mesmerized, often returning many times throughout the season.
Cook, 44, and his wife Marty have been married for 17 years. They have two children: Ryan, 8, and Matthew, 6.
They have lived in Charlotte for eight years. Cook is a military veteran, a Microsoft employee, and a hobbyist who enjoys electronics.
One computer running Windows 7 handles the entire display.
It takes Cook eight-10 hours per minute of music to fill out a computerized spreadsheet that manages the lights.
There are 7,840 squares on the spreadsheet for each second of music.
Cook made the electronic controller cards himself. He has a homemade electronic scrolling sign that is made of pegboard, and his boys helped him insert LED lights into each hole of the pegboard.
Kevin and Marty are sure to involve their two sons, both with the setup and the donations.
In 2008, they raised $3,706 for Victory Junction, a camp for children with serious illnesses.
In 2009, they raised $9,206 for A Child's Place.
The family makes a personal donation each year to add to what has been collected. Microsoft matches the amount the Cooks personally donate.
A Child's Place
This year the donations are going to A Child's Place, which collaborates with the Charlotte community and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to provide services, food and supplies for about 4,000 homeless children.
"We were so impressed with the charity last year," said Cook. "They even send home snacks for the children to eat, because the school lunch could be a homeless child's only meal for the day."
8,400 candy canes
Cook has noticed he gets more donations on the nights when he stands outside holding the bucket, so he tries to be out there as much as possible.
He starts putting up the lights just after Halloween.
This year it was easier because United Rentals donated a bucket truck, and he was able to reach the highest part of his house and the trees.
Sam's Club also donated 8,400 candy canes for him to give out.
Cook said he and Marty talked with their boys about the time commitment.
The boys reminded them how important the donation is to A Child's Place.
They said, "Dad, it's not about us. Think about those kids."