“I’ve liked playing with lights since I was a kid,” says Chris Racine, one of Provincetown’s most sought after DJs and lighting-effect designers. Racine and his collaborator, Shelley Jennings, are the creative technicians responsible for the popular town hall light displays you may have seen during holidays and other events, such as the Portuguese Festival and Bear Week.
When the Covid-19 lockdown began this past spring, Racine and Jennings projected medical symbols onto town hall to honor essential workers and spread hope. And when the Biden-Harris win was announced on the Saturday after the Nov. 3 election, and the town broke out in spontaneous celebration, Racine and Jennings put on a blue-and-red light show, representing the hoped-for reunification of the country.
Racine, who is self-taught in his craft, has a background of overcoming daunting obstacles. Born and raised in Marquette, Mich., he was severely injured at age seven in an accident involving a van of children returning home from a piano recital and a semi-trailer truck careening down a hill.
“I am lucky to be alive,” Racine says. “My head was cracked open, and I was in the hospital for a very long time.”
Racine does not recall his life before the accident. His first memories are of the flashing lights of the ambulances and police cars at the scene, and the voice of his uncle, a first responder, crying out his name. The medical team who treated him told Racine’s parents that he would be mentally impaired.
That’s not all the team said. “The doctors noted in one of their evaluations that I especially liked things that spin and blink,” Racine says with a smile. “They nailed that one on the head.”
Home from the hospital, Racine began to play with sound and light. Demonstrating a creative resourcefulness that has become a hallmark of his career, he took his family’s Christmas lights display into his room. “I would string up the lights and plug and unplug them to disco music,” he says. “Then, one day, I realized the electrical pulses that run a speaker could also work bulbs. I hooked up the Christmas lights to speaker wires and tried out different ways of making them blink to the beat.”
Eventually, Racine, who was in special-ed classes until high school, was allowed to take a mainstream art class. He excelled. Instead of nurturing their son’s talent, however, Racine’s parents were embarrassed by it.
“They thought what I was doing was simple,” Racine says. “They wanted me to develop other hobbies.” But he was not to be stopped. “In eighth grade, I put on a school dance just so I could do lights,” he says. “I had an electrician make me a four-way switch and made Christmas lights spin. I was the popular guy for a week.”
Defying his post-accident prognosis, Racine took mainstream courses in high school, where he learned video editing and did stage lighting for theater. After graduating, he left Marquette for Grand Rapids, Mich.
“I was there for about a week when I walked into a club,” he says. “That evening, the sound system broke down, and I fixed it.” The club hired Racine on the spot. “I couldn’t sleep for days. I knew that I had just discovered what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
His career took him to bigger and better-equipped clubs throughout Michigan. “I almost didn’t care about the DJ part,” he says. “I would make people think it was about the music, then I would slowly make changes to the lighting. I would stay on when everyone went home and teach myself how to program lights.”
In 2004, a friend told Racine about a job opening for resident DJ and tech manager at the Crown & Anchor in Provincetown. “I talked with Rick Murray, the owner, for two hours,” Racine says. “The following week, I flew out, and Rick told me that he wouldn’t let me leave before signing a contract.”
With brief interludes in Florida and on cruise ships, Racine has been in Provincetown ever since, working at the Crown & Anchor and the Art House, where he met Jennings in 2012.
Racine first attended the Pilgrim Monument’s Christmas lights ceremony in 2004. “It was great, but I felt P’town could do better,” he says. “I approached Jim Bakker,” then director of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, “to suggest we could bring speakers and mics for the 2005 lighting. It was a huge success.” Racine has volunteered to DJ at every Monument lighting since then — with the socially distant exception of 2020.
In October 2016, Racine and Jennings began to collaborate on Provincetown Town Hall light displays. “We were doing the lighting and DJ work for the Halloween ball at town hall,” he says. “Shelley said the town wanted something cool outside, so I borrowed lights and we projected spider webs all over the building. Everyone loved it. Then we did Holly Folly, and the town started buzzing about it. We were given money to buy colored lights and did more holidays and events.”
After setting up a town hall display, Racine often waits in the crowd for it to go on. “My favorite part is to see the reaction on people’s faces,” he says. “I hear them gasp and go ‘Wow!’ ”
Racine and Jennings have never taken a fee for their town hall lighting work. “Then we’d have to listen to what they want,” he says with a smile. “And that would take away from our creativity.”