Merry Meets Tech in Solvang’s ‘Aurora Dronealis’ Show

December 21 Event Will Be the Only One of Its Kind in Southern California

Old-fashioned Solvang charm will blend with newfangled technology this Saturday for the city’s upcoming Julefest Christmas Drone Show, called (wink, wink) Aurora Dronealis. For 15 minutes starting at 6 p.m., 100 drones fixed with color-changing LED lights and synched to amplified holiday music will put on a display guaranteed to widen eyes and drop jaws. Picture the dazzle of a fireworks show (but without all the loud noise that dogs hate) combined with the shape-shifting magic of a college marching band. 

While the show will be visible from five-plus miles around, its two-dimensional shapes will only take their proper form from the viewing area at Solvang Lot 72 at 100 Alisal Mesa Road. There, ticketed grandstand seating will be available for $15 per person. A handful of $500 VIP tickets are also for sale. Those will get you a firsthand crash course in drone technology from the show’s pilots. “We’re so excited for this fantastic holiday display,” said Solvang mayor Ryan Toussaint. “It is quite literally a shining example of all that’s new to Julefest, and to the entire town.”

Drone shows are relatively new things. They first burst onto the scene during Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime performance three years ago, and then again during the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The productions are growing in popularity, led mainly by Intel and its high-end fleet. Firefly Drone Shows based in Detroit, one of only a handful of FAA-licensed operators in the U.S., is choreographing the Solvang event. 

Scott Shuemake, president of IDK Events, producers of this year’s Julefest, stressed all safety precautions are being taken. There will be a 1,500-foot buffer set up around the flying area, and the drones ― all fully autonomous and programmed to fly only predetermined paths ― contain firmware that forces them to land if they wander too far outside their routes. They’re custom made and much smaller and lighter than the drones most people see in the sky taking photos or video, Shuemake explained.

The rest of the event will feature all the regular crowd-pleasers, like the interactive Nisse Adventure experience, evening Candlelight Tours, and visits with Santa in Solvang Park. New this year is a play area called “Santa’s Lade” (Santa’s Barn), a children’s winter wonderland with snow and live animals.

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