‘2020′s been rough’: Galax lights show brings holiday spirit to community

Admission to show is free

GALAX, Va. – Twinkling lights dancing to classic holiday music fill the night sky in Galax. The High Country Lights show has brought the Christmas spirit to Southwest Virginia once again.

“It’s better than any other year we’ve been here,” said Ryan Shelkin, who has been to the show for the past five years and brought his daughter Brooke with him to carry on the tradition on opening night Friday.

“They definitely went overboard this year, which is great because 2020′s been rough so this is fantastic,” said Shelkin.

Couples like Jacob Brown and Matika Baker used to watch the show on dates. Now they get to bring their kids.

“We love it,” said Baker.

“It’s really good for the community and the kids. It gives them something to do, something to look forward to,” said Brown.

Cars line the parking lot at Felts Park in Galax, all tuned into 95.9 to hear holiday music and watch the lights synchronize to the songs.

William Bottomley is the mastermind behind the spectacular show.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” said Bottomley.

What started as a light show at his North Carolina home, moved to a fire department, and finally to Galax. He programs all the lights and sets everything, but the tree poles, up all by himself. He started setting up two football fields worth of lights in October.

“Now, it’s become so large it’s become a huge regional event pulling people from Roanoke, Bristol,” said Bottomley.

Last year, Bottomley estimated the show brought in about 60,000 people. This time around, he and the city are encouraging everyone to socially distance.

“We’ve asked for guidance from the health department and they were good with everything. They’re happy with what we’ve done,” said Bottomley. “Highly recommend them to stay in their vehicles unless you’re getting out for food or take a picture.”

This year, there are new songs, another food truck and horse-drawn carriage rides.

The show will cost Bottomley about $3,000 out of his own pocket. The city pays him some expenses for things like extension cords, gas and zip ties, but he says he doesn’t want money.

“When I hear families just excited and happy, that’s my payment,” said Bottomley. “People really need hope. They need light. They need to be given something to look forward to.”

At the end of a dark year, these lights are shining bright.

“Oh it means the world. It’ll bring this community back together,” said Shelkin. “Brings joy to everybody.”

The show runs every night through January 3. It runs from 6 p.m. - 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 6 p.m - 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Admission is free.

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