Lilith is the pre-Biblical character who, as Adam's first wife, was kicked out of Eden for refusing to live with him as less than his equal. Based on this proto-feminist folktale, it's appropriate that Sarah McLachlan chose her to serve as the namesake for a tour consisting of all women/women-fronted bands. Yet by creating this past summer's most successful festival tour, McLachlan has become a modern-day David, who took on the Goliath of male music executives--and won.
Although billing the festival as "a celebration of women in music," McLachlan points out that "this tour is a huge step in the right direction for women's rights, but it isn't a soapbox for extremist feminism. It's about equality in every aspect of life between men and women--so it's part feminist, part humanist. I just think everybody is equal."
In fact, both in front of and behind the scenes, men can be found in equal force on both the Lilith Fair and McLachlan's solo tours. Most of McLachlan's crew has worked with her management company, Vancouver-based Nettwerk, for years, and the tours are very much a team effort. "This actually all started with the last tour, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, because she wanted to have Paula Cole open for her, but promoters told her they couldn't put two women on the same bill," says LD Graeme Nicol, who has worked with McLachlan for the past 10 years. "That fueled the fire. She thought, 'Well, I'll show you.' She came up with a plan a year and a half ago, and her management company said, 'Yeah, let's do it.' We did four shows last year, and then it just blossomed. A lot of us were shocked, not realizing how big it was going to be."
The seven-week, 35-date Lilith Fair proved the summer's hottest festival ticket, selling out most venues across the US and Canada in July and August, making it one of 1997's most successful tours. Its mainstage lineup included McLachlan, who played all the dates, Paula Cole, Emmylou Harris, Tracy Chapman, Joan Osborne, Fiona Apple, the Cardigans, Suzanne Vega, the Indigo Girls, Jewel, Paula Cole, Aimee Mann, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tracy Bonham, Shawn Colvin, Sheryl Crow, Neneh Cherry, Lisa Loeb, and Meredith Brooks. Second-stage acts included Victoria Williams, Jill Sobule, Juliana Hatfield, Kelly Willis, the Wild Colonials, and the Parisian quartet Autour de Lucie.
Last June, McLachlan and her band starting rehearsing in Vancouver, but because there was so much interest in the tour, the mainstage acts were not confirmed until the last minute. The production was made flexible enough to accommodate all performers. "The truss layout was a team effort; I had meetings with tour director Dan Fraser, production manager Paul Runnals, stage manager Al Robb and lighting crew chief Tracey Ploss to come up with a viable layout for the truss, and everyone put in their two bits," Nicol says. "I'm glad all departments had input."
The lighting rig had to take the PA system into account as well as the set design. "That was interesting because we've always done everything ourselves, and we really haven't gone outside [our organization] to get things done," Nicol says. "I was talked to about coming up with a set, but I don't consider myself a set designer. I've never had any training. Just give me a set and I'll light it up--that I can do."
Management elicited ideas from several designers, and McLachlan chose a concept contributed by LD/set designer Paul Morrill. "The drape's design is a series of celestial maps and the signs of the zodiac, and how they relate to the different chakras in the female body," Morrill says. Painted with UV-sensitive paints, the same drape changes into a night sky behind the musicians who performed at night. "It's a great gag," Nicol says. "You can certainly make it a little different without having the extra plot. Originally, we were also talking about flying in set pieces, but we decided to keep it simple."
As the truss design was being established, Nicol put together the lighting equipment. "I knew we were going to take a Wholehog II console--that was a given, because I realized in a festival situation I'd have to have an analog console anyway, so I was bringing a Celco Gold," Nicol explains. "The Wholehog seemed to be the best board to have for the moving lights. I figured more LDs coming in with their acts would already know that console--there are probably more people who know Wholehogs than Artisans(R). So I went down and took the Wholehog training course at A.C. Lighting. Plus, I didn't want to just limit the lights to Vari*Lite(R) products at that point."
Vancouver-based Westsun International handled main lighting contractor duties, and Nicol decided to add High End Systems Studio Colors(R) to the lighting design (which also included Vari*Lite VL5(TM) and VL6(TM) automated luminaires) after checking them out on different tours. "The strobing effect is pretty standard, but it's great," Nicol says. "And I really like the colors compared to incandescent. I've been missing the light blues and the lavenders. What's really interesting is that at really low densities the Studio Colors almost have a sharp edge to the beam. It almost looks like a VL2C(TM); I like that. The colors are great, and the brightness. I definitely wanted the VL6s because they're so fast and light; the same with the VL5s, really." Nicol also included six High End Systems Cyberlight(R) Litho automated luminaires to the design, but instead of using the units' own mirrors, he shot their beams onto VLMs(TM) for a more unique look.
While Nicol wanted to make sure the rig was flexible and user-friendly, only the last two acts of every show would perform in complete darkness--and one of those would always be McLachlan. "By the time we got to the end of the tour in August in Vancouver and Calgary, it's daylight until 11pm, so even Sarah wouldn't be using lighting," Nicol says. "But I had extra lights in the rig that can be moved or colored or changed. And everybody gets everything: the truss spots, all the moving lights, anything they want."
Besides choosing the Wholehog for its flexibility, Nicol wanted to try out the WYSIWYG system to see if it would make life easier. "And it did," Nicol says. "In the first couple days of programming, where you usually end up picking the colors, laying out the console, and getting the gobos set--it was great for all of that. We did all that at Westsun. But there are so many variables, it takes a while to learn it. If I had to do it again, I could do it a lot easier and faster. We were totally impressed. We walked into the venue, the rig was up, we plugged it in, and everything was done on WYSIWYG."
Nicol planned on having to touch up the focuses manually anyway, so he originally intended to send the program back to Westsun after the production rehearsals. "But we got down to the first show in Texas and it was the brightest place I'd ever been in my life--there was no shade anywhere on the stage, so we knew it was going to be impossible to focus," Nicol says. "WYSIWYG was pretty good for daylight focusing, so it proved to be valuable."
During pre-production, Dale Lynch, who served as the crew's FOH lighting and WYSIWYG technician, got the plots from every second-to-last and third-to-last band, and worked out all of their positions in WYSIWYG. "He gave everybody a disk, so when they'd come in, he'd already done the coloring and positions. It saved our lives; we'd have been flailing without it--LDs would have been beating each other up behind the console," Nicol laughs. "Actually, I didn't need it that much because we get the full monty for Sarah's show."
Having worked together for so many years, McLachlan and Nicol have developed such a rapport that the musician will keep the lighting cues in mind during her performance. Yet because this was a festival situation, Nicol decided not to script out every cue. "I really didn't want to go cue-to-cue on this--I didn't think I'd be able to," Nicol says. "And because I had the two consoles, I decided I would make looks and just go with it. In pre-production I only had 10 songs to do, but I only had three days, so I blasted through them. I got them nearly done, and then I didn't want to let go of the console, because with daylight focuses I didn't think I'd get a lot of time--nothing would be exact enough. I'm really persnickety. I want everything to be just right."
As it turned out, Nicol had more time to work on the show than he thought he would, but he also relaxed on some of his usual details. "I realized that the focuses aren't quite as crucial because most of the crowd is thousands of feet away," Nicol says. "They don't see the little details that we'd normally put on her solo show. So I decided I'd use the big brush instead of the little one. There were a lot of generic looks out there, whereas normally I'd pick up everything in the song: when the vocalist comes in, when the background vocalist comes in, the guitar solo. But in this situation we didn't really need to do that."
During the tour, McLachlan gave Nicol a few vague suggestions as to what she'd like to see. "She doesn't give real directions, it's more along the lines of, 'I like this sort of feel.' She basically lets me do whatever I want," Nicol says. "And she likes a bit of rock and roll in it, too, which is fun. For the ending of 'Possession,' I've got a big strobe effect happening, and she loves that." From most accounts, the Lilith Fair turned out to be a love fest all around. "I just can't say enough about my crew--and for that matter all of the LDs who joined us," Nicol says. "It's not a bunch of grumpy guys with attitude. Everybody works together and really tries to help each other out."
Save for a one-off date in Florida in December, the Lilith Fair officially ended on August 24, but much of the crew returned to go out with McLachlan, whose solo tour kicked off October 8. "This show is close to two hours, so she broke it up into different sections," Nicol explains. "I got the little brush back out to pick up more of the details in her songs." Nicol's design again included VL5, VL6, and Studio Color automated luminaires as well as Trackspots and a Skjonberg motor-control system on the trusses. "I went with an Artisan and not the Wholehog II on this tour because I'm really comfortable with the Artisan," Nicol says. "I don't like the way the Vari*Lites respond to other boards. I've used them for years, and I've done my time on Broadway shows with them as well, so I can get around really easily on them. And I wanted to try out the UDM(TM) [universal DMX module] and see how other lamps run on it. I'm running everything off of there."
Although promised a full fortnight of production rehearsals for this tour, Nicol ended up with only four days. "I was in there at night, and I never saw the band," Nicol says. "I kept going all night when they were going all day, and we were working the bugs out of the motor system, and deciding where we're going to put it, and which way I wanted to have the trusses for each song. I had to do a lot of cut-and-paste, verse-chorus looks and then fix everything else out on the road."
Before hitting the road, Nicol worked on the tour's set with John Rummond, who heads up the art department at Nettwerk, and has been doing record cover art for years. "I came up with the truss design and the riser layout, because I knew I wanted to do this semi-circular hoop design to add a lot of depth to the stage's look," Nicol says. "Westsun had to build those semi-circles and bend the pipes for me because they didn't actuallyhave those in the shop. As usual, they were great; they'll go out of their way to find anything that we need. Then we just asked John if he could come up with an idea for a sharkstooth-type of drape we wanted."
After a few meetings with McLachlan, Rummond had an approved concept, and he presented his computer renderings to some scenic painters in Vancouver. "It was actually getting painted while I was doing pre-production, so I had to program the show with no drape in place at all," Nicol says. "On the last day, we finally got to put up the drape, and I realized that a lot of my looks fell in the yellow-amber end of the color scale, which tied in really well with the drape. I can make that drape different colors, but I'm pushing the rust browns, dark oranges, and ambers more than anything else, and I'm really happy with the way it looks."
And even happier with the way he has it lit. "There are eight units with 20 MSR lights in each, with Rainbow scrollers," Nicol says. "We're using those to light up the painted drops on the hoops, which really is the wrong lamp for the application, because it's just a huge blast of light, but they work quite well. We just lay them on the floor on their backs and shoot them straight up."
The LD also used them to light the backdrop on the Lilith Fair, but they were all up in the air. "Westsun had them in the shop, and the biggest problem I have with regular cyc lamps is they don't go far enough up the drape," Nicol says.
Nicol also incorporated a fiber-optic star drop behind the backdrop, and Rummond came up with a couple of small, 6'x6' panels that fit in behind the painted drop and in front of the star drop. When lit up, they shine through the painted drop. "That's a really neat look, because you've got this 6'x6' painting shining through there, but if you don't realize that it's behind the backdrop, you don't really know where it's coming from," Nicol says. "Then I got a couple of the guys backstage to tear them down before we use the star drops, and in the next song that comes up.
"Surprising the audience--not letting them see how it's done and holding onto the theatrical nature--is the most important part of designing the show to me," Nicol continues. "We'll leave the guitar player in the dark, and you don't know he's left until the song starts. I also try to make every song look different. Each song is a little vignette, and if they happen to segue into each other, well, we'll work with that. But still, each one should look different from the last."
Nicol doesn't go beyond the basic rainbow of colors or use a lot of effects to create these differences, however. "There are only so many colors in the world, so you're going to run out of combinations eventually. I am going with standard colors in the Vari*Lites and the same with the Studio Colors," Nicol says. "I'm using maybe six to eight colors all show. And I tend to stay in one color for the song, maybe split up a verse and chorus. I like the consistency of making the first verse look the same as the last verse--if it sounds the same in the song.
"I'll listen to the song before I go in, and I'll know how many cues I'm going to do before I even start programming the song, because I know where I want to see changes and where it sounds like there should be a change," Nicol continues. "You can go overboard, and I think in previous years I may have done that. Lilith showed me that you don't need to get everything. You can if it demands it, but it's more important to create the right look for the song, and don't worry so much about the details. I'm looking at it every night, so I know the details. But an audience member sees it once, maybe twice. It's wherever he or she wants to look. I'd rather give them all the option to look everywhere."
Nicol's rig does not include many conventional lights, so the moving lights do most of the work. "But there isn't a lot of movement in the show--which I didn't intentionally set out to do," Nicol says. "Having this many moving lights this time made it so much easier not to use everything, but instead make a scene and then go to another scene. I don't like moving for the sake of it. If it's warranted, I have no trouble with it. But this time I'm paying a lot more attention to the band and to the background vocalist--I'm trying to pick her up more when she's singing with Sarah because she's like a shadow. That's what I love about the business. You never stop learning, really. You can always try something new."
Everything was new for the band on the first show, because there weren't any dress rehearsals. "I knew I was going to do the motor moves in the dark, but I didn't know if it was going to be too loud for the band, and they had no idea what to expect," Nicol says. "That first day was kind of exciting for everybody. My plan was to stay dark between songs when the moves were happening, so when I brought the in-between wash up, nobody would notice anything moving."
Fortunately, the entire band uses in-ear monitors, so they told Nicol after the first show that they couldn't hear anything. But they noticed all the changes. "It's funny because there are a lot of cues in this show that I've always done with her, so they expect to see them--and they do see them," Nicol says. "In pre-production the guitar techs were telling me, 'Oh yeah, this cue happens here.' And I'm getting warned about cues they expect to see--so if I get them in, that's great. If I don't, they ask, 'Well, what's going on here?' But it hasn't drastically changed since the beginning of the tour.
One of the more daunting aspects of this tour has been the arenas McLachlan has been booked to play for part of the tour, because her popularity has now outgrown even multiple theatre dates in some markets. "Her physical presence doesn't really equate to an arena, and her show is very intimate," Nicol says. "And I've got a theatre rig, so it's a bit too small for some of the arenas--but it works. The crowd is very forgiving. Sometimes, like the last song of the night when she's just playing at her piano and we bring out all the candles, they're dead silent for that. It's quite bizarre to be able to go into some of these giant hockey rinks, and I've got two followspots and 10 candles on her, and everybody's paying attention. It goes all the way from a big rock show to where we've killed all the arc sources and it's as minimal as it can get."
McLachlan will continue her solo tour in Japan and Australia, and finish up with another American leg in the spring. "Then we'll roll over into the Lilith Fair again," Nicol says. "At this rate, we may never go home. Sarah wants to do the Lilith Fair at least two more times, although she might not do all the dates every time. She might just do a week or so next year, and then let it go. But it will be a prolonged proposition.
"The show will be a little bigger in the spring, or it has the potential of being bigger, but I don't think we're adding any lamps," Nicol continues. "We will definitely be adding some equipment: a front truss and probably a conventional board, just so everyone can try to do whatever they want to. But it will pretty much be the same rig, which will be interesting. I'd like to see how some other people use it. It seems amazing that we have so much for a little folk artist. It's folk with an edge--folk and roll."
Lighting designer/director Graeme B. Nicol
Lighting crew chief/Vari*Lite technician Tracey "Dick" Ploss
FOH and WYSIWYG technician--Lilith fair Dale "Dick Lunch" Lynch
Dimmer technicians Terry Mueller--Surfacing Andrew "Scooby" Copping--Lilith Fair
Lighting system technician Jennifer "Daisy" Bernard
Head carpenter Isaac "Full Pull" Kinakin
Assistant carpenter--Lilith fair Christopher "Bean" Switzer
Scenic designers John Rummond--Surfacing Paul S. Morrill--Lilith Fair
Head rigger Kevin "MC" McCloy
Tour director Dan Fraser
Production manager Paul Runnals
Stage manager Al Robb
B Stage crew chief Terry Muller
Lighting supplier Westsun/Ian Gordon
Lighting equipment--Surfacing (28) Vari*Lite VL5s (13) Vari*Lite VL6s (16) High End Systems Studio Colors (8) High End Systems Trackspots (modified) (11) ETC 19-degree Source Fours (3) ETC 10-degree Source Fours (2) Altman 65 fresnels (64) PAR-64s (1) Fiber-optic star drop (1) Vari*Lite Artisan(R)Plus console (1) Vari*Lite mini-Artisan(R)Plus console (1) Skjonberg moving motor computer (1) ETC Microvision console (2) ETC 48-way dimmers (1) Westsun power distribution system (2) Westsun motor distribution systems (1) Westsun High End Systems112 power distribution system (4) Vari*Lite UDM modules (9) Vari*Lite Smart Repeater(TM) units (12) Thomas pre-rigged truss sections (8) Thomas pre-rigged corners (8) Thomas pre-rigged 45-degree corners (8) Westsun 10"x12" truss sections (14) Columbus McKinnon 1/2-ton motors (8) Columbus McKinnon 1-ton motors (8) 32 feet-per-minute 1/2-ton motors (1) Westsun 12-way motor distribution system (1) Westsun 8-way motor distribution system (1) set of custom backdrop and border drapes (4) 20' custom-bent pipes
Lighting equipment--Lilith fair (12) Vari*Lite VL6s (4) Vari*Lite VLMs (6) High End Systems Cyberlights (16) High End Systems Studio Colors (2) ETC 10-degree Source Fours (14) ETC 19-degree Source Fours (2) ETC 26-degree Source Fours (4) Lycian 1200 truss spots (108) Thomas PAR-64s (7) Thomas 250W ACL racks (8) 20 Lites with Rainbow 5k color changers (10) Altman Blacklite UV 703s (2) Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II consoles (1) Celco Gold 90-channel console (1) Flying Pig Systems WYSIWYG system (2) Westsun custom 12-way motor distribution (2) ETC Sensor 48-channel dimmer racks (1) Westsun custom 400A distribution (1) Westsun custom 240V distribution (4) Thomas spot chairs (25) Thomas pre-rigged truss sections (8) Thomas pre-rigged four-way corners (4) Thomas pre-rigged 45-degree corners (4) Thomas 12"x18"x10' truss sections (10) Westsun 10"x12"x10' sections (9) Westsun 10"x12"x5' sections Westsun custom-built 16'x20' Thomas roof system for B Stage Westsun custom built 16'x20' stage and support system for B stage