The Heart And Soul Of The Great American Road Trip

Show Designer James Scott works with SES to provide the Zac Brown Band with over 100 Vari-Lite luminaires

As one of country music’s most popular artists, the three-time GRAMMY Award-winning Zac Brown Band has sold over six million albums worldwide and produced 11 number one singles. So as they prepared for their 2014 Great American Road Trip tour, the design elements of the production needed to be as big and bold as the artists themselves. With tour provider Special Event Services (SES) once again ready to support, show designer James Scott was brought on board to create the dynamic design and he did so using 20 VL3500 Wash, 60 VL3000 Spot and 22 VLX Wash luminaires from Philips Vari-Lite.

“In looking at the automated luminaires side of the design, I needed fixtures that were 1200W or more to really give me the power and ability to create bold looks, and this criteria pointed me towards the Vari-Lite Series 3000 range. SES is a large Vari-Lite house so we truly based the whole lighting design around the use of the Vari-Lite fixtures. With the VL3000 Spot, VL3500 Wash and the VLX Wash luminaires, we now have over 100 Vari-Lite fixtures in the lighting rig and it looks great.”

Having previously worked with SES, this was Scott’s first tour with the Zac Brown Band. As production meetings began, the design elements of the production needed to reflect the Southern Rock influences of the group, but they also needed to be as powerful and energetic as the band itself.  

Scott continued, “This is my first encounter with the Zac Brown Band. In 2012, I was touring with Ed Sheeran and our US vendor was SES. That’s where I first met Michael Brammer, and at the end of 2013, he contacted me to see if I would be interested in putting together the show design for this tour. The concept was to be an earthy almost rustic sort of feel, but also high-tech to bring it into a modern design. The size of the design also needed to be of a large scale, since the band moved into headlining tours. They wanted a lot of power from the lighting rig and that’s where the Vari-Lite luminaires really played a big role in the design.”

"I was thrilled to work with James again when Zac brought him in to design this tour,” added Michael Brammer, SES Director of Touring. “The band was ready for a complete design change and James’ skills and style fit the request perfectly. From day one, and throughout the entire design and execution process, James did a fantastic job of honoring the band's requests, and keeping the rig within reason for the vendors and techs on the tour; a task that was handled equally as well from the Vari-Lite fixtures utilized on the rig. The functionality, brightness, colors, and gobo selection of the entire Vari-Lite line is what really helped make the design come alive in a way it never has before." 

As Scott started to work with SES to identify the ideal lighting elements to spec for the design, it soon became evident that the lighting rig would rely heavily on Vari-Lite luminaires.

“The VL3500 Wash luminaires give us a very bold base color,” explained Scott. “I love the sheer power that comes from them and the fact that you can drop in a saturated color and it still punches through an LED wall or other popular automated fixtures on the market. Because of this, I was able to select the style for each song through the colors of the VL3500 Wash.”

With an output that exceeds 70,000 lumens, the VL3500 Wash luminaire features internal zoomable beam optics with either Fresnel or Buxom options, an interchangeable front lens system, and an aperture wheel, while also providing CYM color mixing, variable CTO color temperature correction, dual five-position color wheels, a separate dimmer, and an independent dual blade strobe mechanism.  Along with its zoomable optics system, the VARI*BRITE mode allows the luminaire to create a tight column of remarkably intense light.

Scott continued, “I chose the VL3000 Spots mainly because of their zoom range and the fact that they are so reliable. I had quite a few of them placed on a 40 foot stick of pre-rig truss that ran the length of the B stage. This enabled me to use the fixtures to texture the thrust stage and due to their impressive zoom, I was able to floor the arena with color and gobos, which included the audience into the acoustic set.”

The VL3000 Spot luminaire features CYM color mixing, variable CTO color temperature correction, a six-position color wheel, three gobo/effects wheels, a beam size iris and separate dimmer and ultra-fast strobe mechanisms. With its 20,000 lumens of output and 6:1 zoom optics, the VL3000 Spot is an industry favorite that has set the standard for imagery, beam control, color and brightness in automated spot luminaires.

“I have used the VLX Wash before and in this design they really give us a great side key light,” said Scott. “I wanted to move away from the idea of using followspots for each band member and the VLX Wash worked beautifully in this regard. We have 12 on the side and eight hanging from above, and they give me the ability to light each performance as if it were a DVD shoot because the LED white really picks out the facial features of each performer.”

The VLX Wash luminaire incorporates the most attractive benefits of LED lighting technology with the product quality only found in Vari-Lite automated luminaires. The internal beam homogenization system creates rich and smooth color mixing, plus the VLX Wash also allows for operation of all seven light engines as one, or for completely independent control of each. With stunning colors, powerful intensity, a multi-year source life, and low energy consumption, the VLX Wash is a remarkable LED automated luminaire.

Scott concluded, “I really love how cinematic this design turned out to be. All of the elements work in perfect proportion together and no one element seems overused during the show. In the design, we have a large 63 foot curved LED wall to surround the performance area and center the attention towards the artists themselves. This was mirrored by a curved automated gauze reveal, that we could texture from the VL3000 Spots in the rig and utilize it as a surface to project from FOH stacked projectors. As the tour continues to evolve, I think the audience will really be blown away with all the design elements, but the Vari-Lite luminaires are truly the heart and soul of the lighting design.”

As a leading designer and manufacturer of premiere automated lighting systems, Philips Vari-Lite provides equipment and services to the entertainment industry, serving such markets as concert touring, theatre, television, film, cruise lines, houses-of-worship, and corporate events. Vari-Lite automated lighting systems are available through a worldwide network of independent professional dealers. www.vari-lite.com.

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