Island of Jazz Unlike rock festivals, which always seem to take place on an abandoned farm, or some equally Godforsaken locale, jazz festivals find destinations as cool as the music they celebrate. Think Newport, Montreux, New Orleans. You can add to that list the Catalina Island Jazztrax Festival, held each October on one of the most alluring islands off the California coast. The emphasis here is on smooth jazz, and this year's edition, held over three weekends, played host to such popular acts as Spyro Gyra, Warren Hill, Lee Ritenauer, Richard Eliot, and Pancho Sanchez.
Most of the concerts at the Catalina Island Festival were held at the sixth - floor Avalon Casino Ballroom, which overlooks Avalon Harbor and Descanso Bay. The lighting rig, supplied by A-1 Audio and Lighting Rentals, consisted almost entirely of products from Martin Professional. The lineup included 15 Martin MAC 500 profiles, 10 MAC 600 washlights, and four MAC 250 profiles. Rich Casarez, the festival's lighting designer, says that the different units performed different functions. "The MAC 500s have five rotating gobos, nine static gobos, two color wheels, dimmer, shutter, prism, and iris, so they provided all the special effects, such as gobos moving around the performers. We used a mixture of 500s and 600s to provide some good punchy sweeps across the room."
There were also two T-shaped mounts placed high in the ballroom ceiling, on opposite sides of the inevitable mirrorball; each mount held three MAC 500s each. "Those lights had gobos with the festival's sponsor's logos, including Heineken, Sam Goody, and Catalina Express; they moved all over the room." In addition, says Al Siniscal of A-1, with the T-mounted units, "We were able to create an additional light show over the stage proscenium from this unusually high position." Completing the rig, says Casarez, were "the MAC 250s, which were mostly used to do spots on the stage, and also to do crowd washes; I created disco effects because, once the music started, a lot of people ran up front and started dancing." In addition to the Martin rig, Altman Explorer Long Throw Followspots were used to navigate the 110' throw over the audience to the stage. (Power distribution in the ballroom was made easier with a Dadco system.)
The biggest challenge, according to Siniscal, is "Catalina is an offshore island and there is no sending a truck back to the shop to get any forgotten or missing critical parts. About 25 miles of ocean separates us from the nearest mainland. Shipping is generally by barge only three days per week. We have to be completely self-contained with plenty of backup and spare parts. Also the shows are in the top-floor ballroom, so the large equipment has to go up and down six floors of baseball stadium - type ramps in order to get to the correct level. The smaller pieces can go by a classic single 1929 style elevator, which is not big enough for typical audio consoles. Fortunately, the site is absolutely beautiful."
Casarez notes that three or four acts brought their own lighting designers; otherwise, he had to create looks for a wide variety of bands. "Some of them wanted just one color, maybe amber, and no movement in the light. Others requested no haze, or hard edge, just washlight." With others, he adds, he had more leeway, creating dramatic color washes and movements.
Between sets, the music didn't stop. Audiences could adjourn to the Marina Room Bar, where more acts played during intermissions. A-1 supplied four Martin Mini-Mac profiles. Casarez's company, Automated Lighting Systems, also brought in Martin Robocolor 3s. The Mini-Macs, he says, "projected sponsor gobos, while the Robocolor 3s provided the stage wash. The Mini-Macs also provided sweeps and imaging on the ceiling." Both systems, in the ballroom and bar, were controlled using Martin Light Jockeys. ALS also provided two Strand Zoom lekos to project the Jazztrax logo on the exterior of the Casino.
Other personnel on the project included technician Warren Cilley and spot operators Doug Brown and Mindi Walters, production manager John Rozenberg, stage manager Gregg Hudson, audio FOH and crew chief Tony Alamia, audio monitor Toshi Kumagai, audio tech Brian Langowski, and audio lighting and staging tech Johnny Montero, with staging and audio by Christian Weisendanger and A-1 Audio and Lighting production by Siniscal.
With a total of 15 concert sessions and 30 different acts over three weekends, everyone involved was kept very busy. Next year, the 15th edition of the Jazztrax festival will take place over the first three weekends in October. Of course, if listening to jazz on a beautiful California island isn't your thing, there's always the Jazztrax Winter into Spring Music festival, to be held in March in central Oregon.
Still, Catalina looks like the ideal spot for a bit of jazz on an October night.