Since the late 1980s, the Gipsy Kings have made the US a traditional summer stop, this one being no different as they recently completed the North America 2001 tour. This renowned group from France combines addictive flamenco rhythms with soaring vocal harmonies and Gitane lyrics (a gypsy dialect of French and Spanish), but the Gipsy Kings have crossed the language barrier on a global level. Not including the six-member backup band, there are seven guitarists out front made up of two families--the Reyeses and their cousins, the Baliardos--three of whom play rhythm on the quarter beat while the other three syncopate the same chord structures on the back beat as lead guitarist Tonino Baliardo fills in with blazing lead patterns.

Lighting designer Alex Parra executes the difficult task of providing an environment that must accentuate the music as only he can do--Parra is also the show director and heaven help anyone thrown in his place in an emergency--the rhythms are so complex and machine-gun-like one would have to know the music and the culture inside-out. Parra is a true artist in the sense that he has had the privilege of regular visits for inspiration to Paris museums observing theme, texture, and color usage, having been a resident for 27 years until his recent relocation back to his homeland of Chile.

At the request of veteran production manager Robert “Sparky” Nielsen (Dr. John, Everly Brothers), Clearwing Productions of West Allis, WI, was given the opportunity to bid on the lighting package. When Nielsen learned that owner Greg Brunclik recently purchased two new Volvo truck rigs, he was fortunate to get a package deal including trucking and won the bid for the tour--Clearwing's first national tour. Nielsen, who is also a FOH audio mixer for other acts, speaks very highly of the crew that Clearwing supplied. “These guys do an absolutely incredible job with a great attitude,” he states.

Parra made a change on the current tour to Vari*Lites after using mirrored fixtures on his previous tours. He says, “The Vari*Lites move in a more elegant fashion for what I execute with my design on this tour. The movement is much smoother and more graceful.”

Clearwing purchased some of the first luminaires that Vari-Lite offered for sale--the Series 2000. Parra is using 23 VL2402 automated wash lights and 15 VL2202 automated spots along with PARs, ACLs, and ETC Source Four 19° ERS lamps.

Calling the show on an Avolites Sapphire gives Parra more flexibility to make immediate changes during the show. “The band does not always stay with the set list, or there are times when I feel the need to adjust my rhythm with theirs, and I can do this easily on the Sapphire,” adds Parra. Utilizing unique components at every venue, Parra has been known to reprogram his automated lighting to illuminate different areas of a venue not related to the artist or stage. In Austin, TX, he placed conventional fixtures in a grove of trees at the side of the stage in various layers to give more depth to the show.

The truss design, a broken trapezoidal configuration with a canvased circular truss in the center, allows Parra to bring a third dimension to the stage, giving his artform more depth onstage--something the lighting industry is seeing more of these days.

Parra's mentor, Jacques Rouveyrollis, is renowned as one of the greatest scenic designers in Europe, having worked with the likes of Jean-Michel Jarre during his outdoor spectacles, one of which took place in Houston, TX, in 1987, using the downtown skyline as his canvas. Parra remembers the best advice Rouveyrollis ever gave him: “Don't forget: You can light a show with four lamps if you have to,” which they did at Rouveyrollis' daughter's community theater--four lamps. Parra said it looked fabulous. During one of the Kings' previous tours, while driving through Arizona, Parra even used an Indian reservation's jewelry store wares to assist him in his choice of colors. Now that is true inspiration.