After the events of September 11, 2001, the Gulf Coast region responded with open hearts to New York City; in fact, Louisiana was among the very first to send a new fire truck — the “Spirit of Louisiana” — to the NYFD. So New Yorkers never questioned doing something in response to the devastation of hurricane Katrina.

Among the first fundraising efforts was a broadcast special on September 9 called Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast produced by Joel Gallen. Shelter appeared on all six major broadcast networks, PBS, 50 cable outlets, two radio networks, and in 155 countries, raising in excess of $30 million for the Red Cross and Salvation Army's Hurricane Katrina relief efforts at early count. The one-hour telecast, with segments from New York and Los Angeles, also included an appearance by U2 with Mary J. Blige, pre-taped at a tour stop in Toronto. The New York end of the telecast was broadcast from the Sony Music Studios. In New York, Alan Adelman was the lighting designer with programmer duties handled by Rich Tyndall. The Los Angeles portion was lit by Simon Miles, and LD Allen Branton handled the Toronto U2 segment.

On September 20, New York City hosted From the Big Apple to the Big Easy — NYC's Concerts for the Gulf Coast. This event comprised two concerts staged simultaneously at Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall and broadcast live on Pay Per View and via Real Networks on the Internet. Veteran producer Ken Ehrlich and New Orleans Jazz Festival director Quint Davis produced the content and broadcast. Clear Channel Entertainment produced the live event, including the live production aspects, under Dan Parise, director of production for its New York area operation, Ron Delsener Presents. Cablevision and the Dolan Family underwrote much of the costs.

The five-and-a-half-hour concert's all-star line-up of talent at both venues was impressive by any standard. At Madison Square Garden, host Ed Bradley along with President Bill Clinton, Paul Newman, Jessica Lange, and Scarlett Johansson introduced artists Jimmy Buffett, Elvis Costello, John Fogerty, Elton John, Diana Krall, Lenny Kravitz, Cyndi Lauper, Dave Matthews, Bette Midler, Simon & Garfunkel, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Dave Bartholomew, Ry Cooder, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, The Dixie Cups, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, The Meters, The Neville Brothers, The Rebirth Brass Band, Kermit Ruffins, Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint, and Buckwheat Zydeco. A short distance uptown at Radio City Music Hall, performers included Dave Matthews, Tom Waits, The Neville Brothers, Trey Anastasio, The Meters, John Mayer Trio, Joss Stone, Galactic w/the Wild Magnolia Mardi Gras Indians, Ray Lamontagne, and Rebirth Brass Band. Several of the artists appeared at both locations during the course of the evening. One particularly appropriate aspect of The Big Apple to the Big Easy concerts was the inclusion of a who's who of New Orleans musicians.

The Katrina benefits came at the height of the New York production season, including Fashion Week, the new Broadway season, and several major televised and special events. Vendors were already stretched thin, according to Darren DeVerna, senior vice president for Production Resource Group. “It was a way to lend support at a difficult time for the country, even though it was at a period when another production was a tremendous drain on us,” says DeVerna. “We felt that it was important to support such a worthy cause.” Many production personnel were also pulling double duty to keep previous commitments and aid in the relief efforts. All this led to tight schedules and complex logistics.

The Big Apple to the Big Easy concerts were scheduled to fit in a narrow window of availability for Madison Square Garden — between an event on September 17 and an Elton John show on September 21. At Radio City Music Hall, Rich Claffey, vice president of Event Productions, had his own scheduling issues. “Ten days before the event, I got involved. It was a big scramble to get it into the schedule. We were just preparing for our Christmas Spectacular, and we had to work around some other events and projects that needed to be moved around in order to do this.”

Claffey explains how, with one day for load-in, they were able to pull everything together. “Trey Anastasio was one of the headliners for the Radio City portion of the event, and Trey's production manager, Haddon Hippsley, was the staging supervisor for the Radio City portion,” says Claffey. “Haddon and I coordinated all the logistics for our part of the show. Once we heard we were doing the event, Haddon and I got together on the phone. We basically used Trey's lighting design and his lighting designer, Chris Kuroda. It was pretty straightforward. Then, I reached out to local vendors to try to help us. I told them what the cause was and asked if they could supply us with as much gear as possible based on Haddon's specs, and basically, PRG and ProMix supplied the equipment.”

The timing of Claffey's phone call to PRG was fortuitous because production electrician Jimmy Fedigan was also there to get the call. “I happened to be at PRG working on something else,” Fedigan explains. “I popped my head into Darren DeVerna's office, and he was on the phone with Rich Claffey of Radio City. He put me on speaker with Rich, who explained he was doing the Hurricane Katrina benefit and needed help. I became the production electrician. I worked closely with Ken Bruns from PRG, and we put together a shop order in the next two hours. PRG supplied the entire rigging, sound, and electric package. I hired Drayton Allison as the head electrician, and we called Marty Fuller, head electrician of Radio City Music Hall. When I brought Drayton over to the Hall, I explained to him that he had no worries. The crew there was the best in the world. We used the plot from Trey and started hanging at 8am until 6pm, at which time we had to be finished everything so that Dave Matthews could do a sound check. We used the house followspots and the house [ETC] Obsession console to control all the architecture lighting. Jimmy Kerwin ran the house board. Drayton and Marty worked hand-in-hand and completed everything.”

Claffey was pleased with the effort and final results. “We loaded in at 8am. After dinner, Dave Matthews came in and did his sound check,” he says. “We basically ran through midnight on that night with the first set of groups sound checking, and then we came back first thing next morning, and we ran sound checks up until show time that night. Our show started at 7:45pm and ran until about 1:00am. The Radio City house staff and the Local One crew were terrific. The Clear Channel guys were a big help on the staging end of things, as well. We needed everybody from both buildings to pull this off from all the different departments, and everyone stepped up. It was a huge undertaking in just 10 days. Our show was pretty straightforward, and it wasn't too elaborate. It was just a tightly run show.”

Things over at Madison Square Garden also came together through teamwork and careful coordination according to Michael Callahan. Callahan was the gaffer for the Madison Square Garden portion of the event. He was also the gaffer for the Shelter from the Storm concert 10 days earlier, and he worked on America: Tribute to Heroes and Concert for New York in 2001.

“Dan Parise (director of production) brought in lighting designer Doug ‘Spike’ Brandt of ArtFag,” says Callahan. “Parise then reached out to the Elton John's tour and secured the use of Elton's lighting rig and PA, which was supplemented with additional cabinets and monitor gear by vendor Clair Brothers. A Tait Towers stage with turntable replaced the house stage normally used by Elton. This meant that Spike could use the Elton rig over the stage, supplementing it with two 90' dasher trusses with audience light, a spot bridge for TV frontlights, and additional movers, including 14 donated Morpheus PanaBeam XR2s in the seats behind stage. Flown independently within the Elton rig were sidelight trusses with [Vari-Lite] VL5Bs for ringside and arc VL1000s for keying band members and three Lycian 1271 Stark Lites tucked between and above the finger trusses of the Elton rig for backlighting principals.”

The chain of events went fairly smoothly. “The overall schedule required that the basic production be completed entirely on September 18, so that band gear could be received on September 19 and the first act rehearsed starting at 11am,” says Callahan.

The supplemental TV package, like the Shelter package, was sourced from PRG. Seven bobtails of PRG lighting and rigging were assembled between the two New Jersey PRG facilities with the aid of shop heads Mike Jensic and Rich McDonald in a single day and prepped by a team of five from the production.

“At 8am on Sunday, all seven bobtails were offloaded on the arena level of the Garden in two waves, followed immediately by a parade of forklifts bringing three trailers of Tait Towers stage components up the ramp,” continues Callahan. “At 10am, the first of Elton's 13 trailers were spotted, and shuttling the tour's package up the ramp began. As a crew assembled the Elton rig at the stage end, Tait Towers' staff supervised the build of the stage mid-floor. Downstage, United Rigging supervised the assembly of a 48'×8' flown spot bridge, while the three under-hung Lycian 1271 back spots were being pre-assembled on chairs strapped to road cases, and both 90' dasher trusses were being assembled, rigged, cabled, and hung along both sides. Programmers David Arch and Demfis Fyssicopulos started work at 2pm on networked MA Lighting grandMA consoles still on rolling boxes, pending the construction of a front of house position. During the afternoon, the Elton rig flew; the Tait Stage rolled into position and was finished with a gloss black skin and a double-side video wall. By 10pm, both the Elton rig and supplemental TV package were all online, and programmers Arch, Fyssicopulos, and Elton tour lighting director Kevin “Stick” Bye were moving full steam ahead.”

Monday brought 12 hours of rehearsal, followed by several hours of additional programming. On Tuesday, show day, Prelite's Rodd McLaughlin assisted with the last minute move of consoles from programming to show positions; Center Staging's followspot specialist Ed Pichel made an eleventh-hour house call to service a sub-rented frontlight that had just developed issues; and Patrick Dierson joined the programmers FOH during the show.

“I also only have good things to say about the IA crew under Dennis White; the IB under Michael Fitzgerald; and MSG production staff Shannon Curran and Tim Parsaca,” says Callahan.

Programmer Demfis Fyssicopulos points out what he felt was the real challenge of such an event. “The challenge of the show was getting ready for five-and-a-half hours of live television without having any type of set list or any type of rundown,” he says. “All we knew was ‘at this time, this person gets on stage, and at this time, that person gets on stage.’ Creating looks on the fly like that for five-and-a-half hours takes a toll.”

All the pressure was for a good cause, however, and happily endured by everyone. “Those of us in the entertainment industry did what we could in response to a disaster like Katrina, and I should note that, for many of us New Yorkers, there was an added dimension,” concludes Callahan. “We had seen the outpouring of support from across the country and around the world after 9/11. For many of us, the Katrina benefits were a chance to send something back. Their hearts went out to us; ours went out to them.”

Radio City Music Hall

From the Big Apple to the Big Easy

(Supplemental to Radio City Music Hall Equipment)

15 VARI*LITE VL2000 Spot Luminaire
9 VARI*LITE VL2000 Wash Luminaire
15 Martin MAC 2000E Profile Luminaire
10 ETC Source Four® 19° Luminaire
74 Black PAR64 MFL Luminaire
67 Black PAR64 NSP Luminaire
1 MA Lighting grandMA Console
1 MA Lighting grandMA Light Console
1 MA Lighting grandMA Ether-Lynx
1 MA Lighting grandMA NSP Net Processor
1 96 × 2.4kW ETC Sensor® Dimmer Rack
1 Pathway Connectivity Opto Splitter 5 Pin/6 Out
3 ETC Opto Splitter 5 Pin/5 Out
9 Tomcat Swing Wing Truss 30"×10' OB
4 Tomcat Swing Wing Truss 30"×5' OB
8 Tomcat Black 20"×20"×10' Truss
4 Tomcat Black 20"×20"×5' Truss
3 Tomcat 6-circuit PAR Bar
17 1-Ton Hoist
2 Reel EFX DF-50 Diffusion Hazer

Madison Square Garden

From the Big Apple to the Big Easy

(Supplemental to the Elton John Equipment)

58 VARI*LITE VL5A Wash Luminaire
36 VARI*LITE VL6C Spot Luminaire
14 VARI*LITE VL1000 AS/AI Fixture
6 ETC Source Four 26° Luminaire
6 ETC Source Four 19° Luminaire
4 ETC Source Four 10° Luminaire
4 ETC Source Four 5° Luminaire
24 Black PAR64 MFL
6 Black PAR64 NSP
14 Lighting & Electronics 4' 2-cir MR16 Zip Strip
2 MA Lighting grandMA Console
1 96×2.4kW ETC Sensor Dimmer Rack
4 ETC Opto Splitter 5 Pin / 5 Out
5 Doug Fleenor Design Opto Splitter 5 Pin / 5 Out
3 Lycian 1271 1.2kW HMI Followspot
4 Strong 2kW Xenon Super Trouper Followspot
38 Tomcat Black 20"×20"×10' Truss
28 Tomcat Silver 20"×20"×10' Truss
3 Tomcat Black 20"×20"×8' Truss
2 Tomcat Black 20"×20"×5' Truss
3 Tomcat Black 12"×12"×10' Truss
1 1/2-Ton Hoist
38 1-Ton Hoist
2 Reel EFX DF-50 Diffusion Hazer
2 Reel EFX RE Fan II