"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Friday, May 30, 2014

What A Long, Strange Trip It Was

Ok, so the show didn't include any Grateful Dead (for which I am eminently grateful myself) but I couldn't resist. For nine glorious days over the last couple weeks, I got to play roadie to a rock band. How many people get that chance? I had done this last year on a similar show and loved it, so I was really looking forward to this run. I had to cut it back a bit. Last year I spent well over 40 hours the first week at Franklin Square Park, but this year work just wouldn't allow me the same flexibility. It all worked out well, though. I put in a respectable bit of work and the director stepped up and helped set up and break down the show to a much greater extent. Director Mark worked his butt off on this show, I gotta say he IS pretty rock and roll. As it was, I ended up getting to the park between 4 and 5 pm and leaving about 11:30 each night. Let me tell you, the 4:30 am alarm comes early on that schedule. I think I'm still recovering. But oh my Lord, was it ever worth every killer second!!!!

My main role, the one I volunteered for, was light guy. I had my first experience with this last year at the British Invasion park show and have picked up a little extra here and there since then from Frank Blackmon, our resident tech guru and a retired electrical engineer. The light set-up for our park shows is necessarily simple, we have two metal lighting bars we erect and are able to screw some more lights into the frame of the gazebo that serves as our stage. We started with eleven lights, three facing the stage on each light bar, one over the piano, three over the drums and one aimed out towards the audience in the general direction of the port-a-potty.

While Frank and I were sitting on a park bench congratulating ourselves on getting all these lights hooked up in such a way that they came on and off at our command from the light controller (not as easy as one would hope), along comes the show's director with his vision for the lighting of the show printed neatly on two pages of paper. I was kind of tickled that he thought to put thought into the lighting, so I wanted to make things look as much like he wanted as possible. The problem was our lighting isn't so much traditional stage lighting, used to set mood and affect color and such, as it is essentially a series of spotlights that can illuminate certain areas of the stage. They are too close to the performers to blend together or light any more than one or maybe two people at a time. But Frank isn't the kind to be deterred and always likes making anything more complicated (he IS an engineer after all) so he immediately decided we could add more lights, ones with definite color to them. "We need back lighting, anyhow" he announced and we set about finding some smaller lights and hanging six of them, two each red, yellow and blue, in the back left and right corners of the stage. I'm not sure how well they conveyed the moods the director was looking for, but I diligently attempted to light the songs as he directed. Upon hearing they'd be backlit, the costume queen/vocalist Jen turned to her sister, another vocalist, and announced they'd need slips under their hippy dresses. That's why we have costume people, the light guys wouldn't have thought of that. :-)

Here you can see all our lights but the drum and piano lights, they are facing towards the back attached to the gazebo itself. See the little one aimed towards the audience? Supposed to light the way to the port-o-potties. I labeled it "PP" on my light board.

This is my light board and the notes I made myself so I'd know what to turn on and off when. The notes got soaked in a rainstorm and needed repair. The beer just seemed to fit this show perfectly.

So, I tried very hard to light the show as Director Mark hoped while also putting light on the singers and instruments that were involved in a song. I tried to time bringing lights up on background vocalists just before they began to sing, to bring lights down on the vocalist during instrumental breaks and to focus attention where it should be at any given time. I'm pretty happy with the job I did there. But the most fun part of the job was what Frank called the "DJ Light". It was affixed center stage aimed up above the band so it hit half on the gazebo and half into the tree canopy behind and above with funky, multi-colored lights in a variety of patterns. It looked pretty cool, but I figured it should be used sparingly, especially since most of this show's songs weren't of the hard rockin', funky light needing variety. I saved it up in the first set for Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit. It turned out perfect.

You see, no one notices the lights, they shouldn't notice if you are doing a good job, I think. But in this instance, the debut of the DJ Light timed with the opening words of the song got audible gasps and "ooooo's" from the crowd. My father asked me if I paid the folks sitting next to them to "oooooo" on cue, actually, the first night he came to the show. This really made me happy. White Rabbit was Jen's first solo number of the show and she killed it every night. The timing of the song in the set had something to do with the crowd reaction as well, I think. Concerts ebb and flow as they go along and this song marked the end of an ebbing of the energy level and a reminder that this was a rock and roll show. It was one of those Walt and Roy moments, Jen in the spotlight on stage as artist and me under the tech tent helping things along in the background, both combining to create a great moment that actually got real response from a few hundred souls each night. I'd never experienced anything quite like it and it was really, really fun. Here's a link to the YouTube video, it's cool :-)

Aside from the actual running of the lights, my roadie work was much more mundane. I set up and broke down much of the non-music related equipment, ran cords (lots and lots of cords) hither and yon, plugged said cords back in when over-exuberant fans pulled them out causing black-outs and loss of half our sound, and provided tape and staples and velcro as needed. I was sort of stage manager of the operation, though less so than last year. One quasi-stage manager task I sort of adopted for myself was attempting to get the audience sat down after intermission and ready to hear the first song of the second set. It began with Crosby, Stills and Nash's Find The Cost of Freedom, which is beautiful and this band did acapella to wonderful effect. Harmonies were their strong suit. Problem was, without "house lights" to blink, people had a hard time knowing when intermission was over. Mark wanted the song to start quietly on a darkened stage, which was an awesome idea and a great effect, but because it was so dim and mellow to begin with, and it's a really short number, the song was over before anyone really knew they were singing. I tried a variety of methods to find out when the band planned to begin the second set and get the audience's attention, but none worked. The sound person was often just as confused and still out visiting in the crowd while the band was trying to begin. No one knew what was happening and it was sort of a frustration each night until the last. That last Sunday, during church actually, I had an idea that actually worked. Before the band took the stage, but while they were about ready to come out, I used our microphone in the tech tent to announce that BLT was dedicating the next song to those who gave their lives in defense of freedom. It was heartfelt on my part, it fit right in with it being Memorial Day weekend, and it got people's attention. For the last show at least, that beautful song got the attention it deserved :-)

 After three nights of tech rehearsal and six shows, we were all exhausted. My experience ended in an entirely appropriate manner. The band had all left for a cast party and it was just roadies, tech folk and groupies left in the park (Lisa and I, the Awesome Flow Family and Frank). Everything was finally packed away and locked up. We looked at our tech tent. It was old and took a beating during a storm the first weekend of the show. We had decided earlier to retire it, but Frank wanted to take it home to try to combine with another broken tent to make one good one. Did I mention he was an engineer? Anyhow we set upon the poor thing trying to fold it's broken and bent frame into something that would fit in a pick-up truck. For some reason, we all found this hilarious. So there we were, five nerds wrestling with aluminum sticks in a city park at near midnight, laughing our butts off. It may not be the first thing you think of when you think rock and roll, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

1 comment:

  1. I was not a very good roadie so I'd better stick to being the light guy's groupie.