(Check out the video of this show at www.kgsr.com/anniversary.)
You know it’s going to be a challenging day when it starts with a curve ball even before loading in. I pulled onto the campus of the University of Texas at 8:00AM for a 9:))AM load in. But the security guards in the guard station delivered some “interesting” news: the driveway leading to the loading area was closed due to construction. I would have to drive around to the other side of the building, enter from a major artery, unload the truck and push the gear God knows how far to the venue. As I pulled way from the guard shack, the radio was blaring a fitting tune: the Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” But I refused to be rattled. It was going to be a great gig no matter if I had to carry the dimmer rack on my back up a flight of stairs.
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Some of you know me as the editor of PLSN, or perhaps as the author of some lighting-related books, but you may wonder how I ended up with this gig. There’s a simple explanation.
Writing about the lighting industry takes on a whole new perspective when you’re in the trenches, humping gear and applying the craft as opposed to writing about it as an observer. And I love to work in the trenches so I still work shows from time to time to feed my need for living large as a lighting person. Last week I got a call from the owner of a production company who offered me the chance to light the KGSR radio station anniversary party with Joe Ely, Alpha Rev, Quiet Company, and Old 97’s. I jumped at the chance, so early yesterday morning I went to the shop very early to load the truck.
It was a simple show from a lighting standpoint. It was all conventionals, including 48 ETC Source Four PARs, 24 channels of Sensor dimming, an upstage truss on two Applied L16 towers, and an FOH truss on two Genie lifts. The hardest part about it was working out the circuiting so that I could use six of the SF PARs as specials with no color. Then I had to work out the colors in the lights and how to gang them together on the remaining 18 channels of dimming.
I used LD Assistant to quickly draw the stage, lay out the truss, pick some colors and assign circuits. I knew I wanted some very basic colors so I chose two blues, red, yellow, indigo, and magenta. I don’t like green so I stayed away from it.
The morning of the show when I found out about the driveway closure, I tracked down the facilities manager to figure out the best way around the problem. Luckily, he said the security guards didn’t know that the construction workers were off of work so he let me park in a much more convenient spot than I was initially told.
I knew it was going to be a great day when I was greeted by Donnie of W3, a labor company in Austin, who told me that he had four stage hands ready to work. I met the hands - Quincy, Stone, Sarah, and Chris - and though we had to push all of the gear across a very long walkway it went fast.
I thought we were making good time when the audio crew asked me how much longer it would be before we could crank up the FOH truss. Then once we got it in the air, one of them said we had 30 minutes before the first band comes in for sound check. Wow, where did the time go?
That’s one of the things you tend to forget when you don’t work shows - it seems like you have all day but with everything you have to do, you really don’t have much time at all for anything excepting doing the job quickly. Just before we took the truss to trim I wanted to check the circuits with my handheld DMX tester (Swisson XMT120) but the batteries were dead. I found another gadget to steal a battery, but then I couldn’t get the dimmer rack to fire even though the indicators said it had power. I thought maybe I had a bad DMX cable but I didn’t have time to investigate because I was under pressure to fly the truss. Luckily, once we got it up in the air and I hooked up the console, everything worked except for one burned out lamp and I didn’t have time to change it. Once all the sound checks started I couldn’t get to the fixtures any longer.
At that point between sound check and the first downbeat, I learned that the show was to be broadcast live over the internet. I wasn’t counting on video being there so I went and found the video engineers and had a conversation with them. I found out that they had no external monitors and everything they were capturing was to be monitored on the cameras. That bothered me because I wanted to be able to see what they were capturing in real time so that I could make adjustments. Since that wasn’t possible, I spent the next hour or so during sound checks looking at camera monitors to try to gage what it would look like with different light levels, colors, and various adjustments.
The next thing I did was to find the show producer and make sure they were planning on making the house go to black during the show. The producer was very nice and we worked out a plan where she would dim the house lights on my signal as the announcer stepped up to the microphone.
Then, the lighting director’s worst fear materialized before my eyes. As the show got under way, the emcee bounded up the steps of the stage on his way to introduce the show. But he stopped at the one microphone almost off stage left, the one spot where I had almost no light at all. Then, almost completely in the dark, he announced that we were going live on the radio and the internet. I was shouting at the top of my lungs, “Find your light!” Alas, there was no way he could hear me from the back of the house, so he did the entire announcements in the dark and almost directly behind the Genie tower so that even the little light that was on him couldn’t make him visible behind the column. This is why he’s in radio and not on TV.
At the next break, one of the associate producers came to me and said, “Can you light the emcee’s mic during the announcements?” And I said, “No, I have no lights there, and besides, it’s almost directly behind the tower. Even if I could light him, no one would see him.” I asked him to make sure all the emcees used the downstage center mic instead. It was a revelation to him. I chuckled.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Joe Ely, he’s an Austin institution. He’s written songs for Bruce Springsteen and he’s one of the best songwriters in the last 25 years. His guitarist, David Grissom, is probably the most talented guitar player in Austin today, which is saying a lot. He and I both sit on the Austin Community College Advisory Committee for the Music Business Ed program. David used to play with John Mellencamp and David is a real pro. He knew instinctively that when he took a solo, if he took two steps to his right he would be in perfect light. Joe was the same way - when he wasn’t singing he would step back and out of the white special I had trained on downstage center. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. And check out David’s solo on “Rockin’ Loretta.” It’s a thing of beauty and wonder.
I was unfamiliar with Alpha Rev before this show but I think they will be big. All the bands were superb. Check out the recorded video at www.kgsr.com/anniversary. I’m interested in hearing your opinion about the show.