A detailed look at the lighting approach at one recent festival.

Come summertime promoters, corporations, and radio stations have one thing in common: They all stage big festival concerts, booking several bands and planning activities to entertain the masses. Over the years, I've lit many festivals and have developed a method that seems to work. The following is an example of how I designed and executed the lighting at one recent festival.

Last spring, Mike Stellone, a production coordinator working for Track Entertainment, New York, contacted me. Track is a company that frequently unites corporate sponsors with musical events. For years, Track has worked with Rolling Rock, the beer manufacturer, to hold its annual Town Fair in cities around the country. Typically, the event offers the usual fair activities, along with a big stage where as many as eight bands play in a single day. That was the case this year at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, where the 2003 event was held.

Def Leppard on stage at the music festival Town Fair at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field

The first step I took was to find out who was playing. That's a necessary step in figuring out how big the event will be. The bands included Blink 182, Def Leppard, Puddle of Mudd, and 311. I determined that I needed to design something big that could produce a wide variety of different looks. Normally, each band carries their own lighting director who typically runs the lighting console for their band's performance. In advance of this year's show, I conferred with lighting directors Dave “Gurn” Kaniski from Puddle of Mudd and Jason Bullock from 311. We know each other and agreed to keep it simple, but big. It was agreed that I would cover the lighting for Blink 182.

Design Phase

I needed a figure for the lighting budget. I hate designing something grand, only to find out later that the funds allocated would not cover my concepts. Once I learned the amount, I inquired about the stage size, roof height, runways, and other elements that may need to be lit.

The lighting plan for Town Fair in Pittsburgh as drawn in Vectorworks, a CAD design program

I fired up Vectorworks, a CAD design program from Nemetschek North America used by many lighting designers to draw lighting rigs. First, I drew the stage to the specified dimensions. This way, I could place the lighting trusses in the exact location where they would hang from the roof. In the middle of the stage was a 60ft.-diameter turntable with a 9ft. wall parting it in half. The theory was, while one band performed on the downstage part of the turntable, the next band's techs were setting up their gear behind the partition. A 30ft. backdrop was hung across the middle of the stage, preventing any fans from viewing the setup area. This meant I had to cram my trusses into an area about 30' × 60' and still make it all look big.

I rented custom curved truss sections from Upstaging Lighting, Chicago. The sections were 9ft. long, and when two of them were bolted together, they made a quarter circle. I took 12 of these truss sections and designed a rig made out of six fingers. The trusses were hung with one end up in the air toward downstage center, and the tail ends of the curved truss hanging down. It resembled half of a dome's skeleton.

I drew my designs in 3D in order to better illustrate for the client what I was envisioning. I then added in a front truss to insure plenty of front light for video cameras. I finished the truss drawings and emailed them to Stellone. He suggested I move two of the fingers offstage and fly them lower to have side lighting, as well as front and rear lighting.

Finding Fixtures

Now I had to choose which lighting fixtures would work best for this show. The trim height of the trusses was between 30ft. to 45ft. from the stage. The lights I chose would have to be arc light sources with maximum punch for the actual light beams to reach the performers. According to my CAD drawings, I had enough space to hang seven moving lights from each finger. I decided to alternately hang four wash lights and three hard-edge instruments on each finger and then cram some strobes in between them. I chose to scatter 25 Mac 2000 profiles across the rig.

I also took 16 Coemar CF1200 wash lights and hung them in groups of four from each of the top four fingers. These lights offer a bright, collimated shaft of light. They focus nicely into various bright fans, as well as cover band positions. On the side trusses, I placed some Mac 2000 wash lights. These instruments are blindingly bright, plus three of them can zoom out to cover easily the needed side wash.

Floor lights, however, were a problem with the turntable stage. I abandoned any ideas of placing them upstage of the bands, as they would be in everyone's way and a cable nightmare. I placed more Mac 2000s on the downstage left and right corners. I would use these instruments to add to the side lighting, as well as to fan out over the crowd.

I brought along some Coemar Panorama Cyc lights to illuminate the backdrop and PA screens. These are big instruments that are intended to illuminate broad surfaces. I hung them from outrigged pipes on the side of the stage to light the Rolling Rock backdrop and PA scrims.

Because we were using IMAG (live video of performers displayed on giant video walls), I had to insure that there was plenty of front light in addition to the spotlights. I therefore chose to hang eight Coemar super cycs from the front truss. These instruments pack 2.4K of color mixing per unit. With a 45ft. throw to the stage, these were ideal for giving me an even color wash across the front. As an added thought, I placed some VL 1000 Tungsten instruments across the front truss to use as key lights on the performers. I also lined the top of the truss with mole lights.

The choice of lighting console was easy. I chose a Whole Hog 2 with an outboard Hog wing. This is the most popular console in rock and roll these days, so I figured most of the bands' designers could figure their way around how I set it up. With this desk, I can set up the ultimate punt page.

The next thing I did was enter my plot-and-patch info into a software program called WYSIWYG (from Cast Lighting, Toronto). Upstaging Lighting provided a nice studio where, through this program, I hooked up a lighting console to a computer and simulated the light show on a big screen. This saves countless hours designing and programming on site. Through this program I created photo-realistic renderings to send to the client and the band lighting directors, so they could see what they were walking into prior to show day. I programmed everything in two days.

Chris Tousey, Scott Marler, and Shawn McKeown were the Upstaging techs on the show. They erected the entire lighting system in under eight hours, and I refocused all the lights the first night. The second night, I spent a couple hours with Dave Kaniski programming some looks, and we were done. The show was the next evening and ran smoothly other than a few design flaws I will remember to avoid next time.

Once the wind picked up, the PA scrims blew into the metal scaffolding. I had a tough time lighting them evenly from the bottom., and they ended up looking skeletal from the shadows. I should have brought some 19-degree lekos and lit them from the front of house mix position. I also should have avoided the VL 1000s as my truss trim was too high for them to light the performers.

Nook Schoenfeld is a 20-year veteran of the concert touring industry. He divides his time between teaching lighting and designing lighting for concert and corporate events You can contact him at nookld@aol.com.