LD Mike Swinford and Morris Sound & Light team up once again with VARI*LITE luminaires

chesney-aac-2-web.jpgWith over 1 million tickets already sold, Kenny Chesney's 'Goin' Coastal Tour presented by Corona is sailing across North America. Selling-out stadiums and arenas alike, this high-energy and powerful show is dazzling millions of enthusiastic fans with a lighting design that has never been seen before. Behind the design is set and lighting designer Mike Swinford who understands exactly how to create the ideal touring environment for this high-energy artist. Keep it fresh, keep it powerful, and always use VARI*LITE luminaires from Philips Vari-Lite provided by Morris Sound and Light.

“This is my 10th year working with Kenny Chesney and I have been working with the guys at Morris Sound and Light for over 25 years,” began Swinford. “It all began back in 1984 when Dale Morris, who manages Kenny now, was managing Alabama, and I was doing the design for them at that time. It has been a great relationship over the years and I have always been a fan of using VARI*LITE luminaires.”

As Swinford began working on his design for the 2011 ‘Goin' Coastal Tour along with long-time Kenny Chesney programmer Mark Butts , they wanted to make sure that the production had a look and feel unlike any previous tour, but they also understood the challenges ahead and the parameters that the lighting needed to stay within.

“There are also three styles of venue that the tour always plays; stadiums, sheds, and arenas. So we have to come up with a design that is friendly for all venues. Plus, there are elements that we always need to leave out of the designs. Between Mark and me, we know his taste and how certain things won't fly with respect to specific colors and patterns, but there are also many things he loves to put into his designs such as big, bright, white looks with lots of power. His show is extremely energetic and sort of in your face, so the lighting needs to support that. It's a big, fun show.”

With their goals in mind, the design team set out to create the perfect design that was unlike any they had done before. And while doing so, an interesting idea came to the table from two unlikely places; ancient Greece and the Lee Greenwood Theatre.

Swinford explains, “For this tour we really erased everything we had done before and started fresh. We started talking about the design back in July 2010 and we decided it would be great if the audience didn't have to look at video screens all night long. In past tours we have used large video screens that have been concave, have been convex, we've had video walls that move, split apart, go up and down, and Kenny even flew through the video wall once. But this year we needed something different. That's when I came up with the idea to use Periaktoi columns, which I had done before in my set design for Lee Greenwood. In that show, I used columns to change the scenery, which was taken from a technique used thousands of years ago in ancient Greece. I thought instead of using them for set reasons, what if we made the columns with one side being lights, one side being high-res video, and the third side with mirrors. The various combinations of lighting, video, and mirror reflections that we could create would allow the design to be ever-morphing.”

Now that the idea for change had been identified, Swinford had to figure out how to bring the columns to life. For that, he turned to Show Rig who created 12 Periaktoi columns that would tie together at the bottom with only three inches in between each column. With space being limited, Swinford had to choose the automated luminaires that would go inside the columns very carefully. They had to be powerful with great color, but also small enough to be able to operate freely inside the confined space. For this, Swinford chose the VL2500 Spot luminaire.

“Each column was designed specifically for the VL2500 Spot because the VL3000 Spot would be too large. In order to physically keep the size of the columns in check, we went with the four VL2500 Spots inside each one and they are doing extremely well. They are able to keep up with the power of the high-res video and the larger VARI*LITE luminaires that are used throughout the design, while also providing a lighting fast strobe along with rich colors. They are the perfect light for this application.”

With the new video and lighting columns now in place, Swinford turned his attention to the rest of the design. For the arena shows the tour would use a total of 32 VL3500 Wash, 64 VL3000 Spots, and 48 VL2500 Spots (inside the Periaktoi columns). For the stadium package, the tour adds an additional 28 VL3000 Spots overhead and in the wings, then another 20 VL3500 Wash fixtures on the field and stage floor.

“This year we decided to go with the Tyler HUD Truss designed specifically for automated luminaires that allows us to hang 60 VL3000 Spots overhead with a very fast deployment. The VL3000 Spot has been our workhorse light for many years doing everything we throw at it, and it's my all-time favorite. We are also using 24 VL3500 Wash fixtures on 12 motorized Pantograph truss systems on each side of the stage that add to the ever-morphing feel of the Periaktoi columns. Since the arena setting has a 270-degree sightline, the Pantograph truss systems with the VL3500 Wash fixtures allow us to have side light that never blocks the audience viewpoint. Then we also have eight VL3500 Wash units on the floor below the amp line. This is the first time I have introduced a wash light into Kenny's design as we have typically always used hard-edge spot fixtures. Everybody loves the VL3500 Wash with its VARI*BRITE mode that gives the light such a powerful and tight beam column. Plus, we can also use them to flood-out and cross-light the band so that everyone is well lit for the video.”

Creating a unique lighting design for a recording artist such as Kenny Chesney is no small feat. In working with a multi-award winning artist who has been seen by hundreds of millions of fans around the world, a designer must challenge both himself and his crew. Mike Swinford did just that in creating the “ever-changing” design behind the 2011 ‘Goin' Coastal Tour and in doing so he is both humbled and excited to have been a part of a great team.

“I can't say enough about our programmer Mark Butts, our production manager Ed Wannebo, the full design team, and the crew on this tour. They all have worked and continue to work very hard to pull off a challenging production. I also have to thank everyone at Morris Sound and Light. They have supported our tours for the longest time and continue to do a fantastic job in providing us with excellent gear. The VARI*LITE fixtures have such great color, optics and power, that I don't see how the design could be the same without them.”

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