The Rig I've Wanted For A Long Time

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When the legendary Grand Ole Opry House was struck by a devastating flood on May 2, 2010, the damage to the entire facility was extensive. With less than six months to get the Opry House back up and ready to go for the Opry's 85th Anniversary Celebration, lighting director Tyler Bryan was faced with what would easily be his biggest challenge ever; the complete redesign and installation of the facility's entire lighting system. On the day of the flood, Bryan and a number of other Opry staff members were floating through the Opry House in canoes to survey the damage. Determined to make the anniversary celebration a reality, Bryan called upon his longtime dealer, Bandit Lites, and together they developed a new rig that consisted of 55 VARI*LITE luminaires from Philips Vari-Lite.

“We were looking toward upgrading our system at some point, but we never thought it would happen like this,” began Bryan. “When the flood occurred, we lost 24 fixtures on the floor due to actual water damage, but the remaining fixtures in the air were untouched. Unfortunately, though, our rail system was damaged so we could not immediately get to the fixtures that were in the air. We had to leave them hanging until the flood waters receded and we could survey the totality of the damage, which we knew would be extensive.”

Four days after the flood, Bryan, Bandit Lites – (Chris Barbee, John Jenkinson), and other Opry staff members were able to see first-hand what had happened. As they feared, the immense amount of condensation inside the flooded building had caused extensive damage to what was left of their lighting rig.

“Once the water was out, and the rig was down, we took our remaining fixtures to the Bandit Lites shop to see what the interiors of our fixtures looked like. As we thought, there was simply too much water vapor damage, and it would take too many spare parts to repair them. So when we added all the damage together, it made more sense to replace the entire rig. Since we knew that we wanted our next rig to be VARI*LITE intensive, we called up Bandit and got right to work.”

At the Grand Ole Opry House, Bryan and lighting assistant Ken McGriff light approximately 128 shows per year specifically for the Opry, but there are also venue rentals that occur for awards programs, corporate events, and private and ticketed concerts. Plus, Bryan would also need to travel with a large portion of the new rig during the Opry's annual winter run at the historic Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville. His new rig had to be versatile enough to handle all these productions, but solid enough to travel with ease.

The Opry's programming philosophy is to showcase the new stars, superstars, and legends of country music, and the Opry's lighting staff is aware that this variety of artists on stage demands a variety of approaches to lighting. “Most of our veteran artists typically like to keep their lighting design simple; keep it subtle,” Bryan said. “But our younger artists tend to gravitate more towards what they are accustomed to on tour, which generally involves a lot of color and effects from the automated fixtures. So no matter what their preference, which location we are in, or what kind of production we are lighting, we need a rig that can make everyone comfortable.”

At the Opry House, the stage measures 80' wide x 45' deep. With the performers, the band, and a lot of sound equipment taking up most of the stage space, Bryan decided to place the majority of his automated fixtures in the air and create a series of pre-programmed looks that he could use to match the variances in mood and style from one production to another. In order to capture the best variety of looks possible, and cover all the areas needed, Bryan worked with Bandit to create his ideal design with 16 VLX Wash, 17 VL3000 Spot, and 22 VL2500 Spot luminaires.

“When we started conceptualizing what fixtures would be in the rig, I remembered a demo done by Thommy Hall with the VLX Wash at Bandit, and how I was instantly impressed with its color and color-mixing. Chris Barbee suggested that we use the VLX as our primary wash and with the reduced maintenance issues of using a solid-state LED light source, they were a no-brainer. I love their ability to have color with punch from an LED source that also has a fantastic white for TV. Maintenance needs are minimal, which is a huge selling point for us. We chose the VL3000 Spot fixtures because they are tried, tested, and true. With these lights hung overhead, I have to trim 30 feet so I need the punch, and it gives plenty. It's powerful, durable, and a workhorse of a light. With the VL2500 Spot fixtures, we have a few on the floor for their tight beams of color and gobo patterns, and then we use the remaining in the air. They have fantastic color-mixing, are bright, and are very fast. We chose this combination of VARI*LITE fixture models because we felt their consistent attributes, color and performance gave us the most advantageous and flexible automated lighting rig to match any kind of show.”

After successfully meeting their deadline (the Opry House reopened with a star-packed show September 28, 2010) and many long hours of hard work, Bryan and his team were very proud of their new lighting rig, but were also just as proud of the dedication shown by their longtime dealer and partner, Bandit Lites.

“This was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do and it could never have happened without Bandit. I have worked with them for a number of years and they consistently provide us with tremendous service and support. I can pick up the phone and they have everything I need. You simply couldn't ask for a better dealer. They have been with me since day one, and we have never had any issues. They handled all aspects of the Opry's stage lighting, dimming and controls with regard to the renovation of the Grand Ole Opry House, and they were there with me all the way to our grand reopening. You can't purchase their kind of support.”

“Getting to where we are today was extremely difficult, but after many hours of long, hard work, we made it,” Bryan concludes. “You would never expect a flood to bring four feet of water to your stage, but months later we couldn't be happier with the system in place. This is the rig I have wanted for a long time, I just had no idea this is how we would get it.”

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