When Sarah McLachlan created Lilith Fair: A Celebration of Women in Music last year, neither she nor her management were prepared for how wildly successful it would be. Fueled by this triumph, Lilith's more ambitious plan for 1998 sought to satisfy the high expectations and increased demand.
Along with Levi Jeans, the tour sponsored the Lilith Fair Acoustic Talent Search. In 14 cities across North America, an artist was selected to win the prize of opening slot on the Village Stage at their hometown's Lilith Fair show. By the time the tour ended August 31 at the Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver (McLachlan's hometown), the festival had run 57 dates, with 170 different acts on its three stages.
McLachlan once again performed at each of the festival's stops, joined again by first-year veterans Emmylou Harris, the Indigo Girls, Paula Cole, and Joan Osborne. Mainstage newcomers included Sinead O'Connor, Missy Elliot, Queen Latifah, Natalie Merchant, and Bonnie Raitt.
The show's design also reflected this blend of the familiar with the new. LD Graeme B. Nicol reprised his roles as McLachlan's LD and designer of the tour's lighting rig, which was used by each band's LD as necessary. Westsun Lighting again served as the tour's main lighting contractor, this year sending out Stan Green (an LD in his own right for the Robert Cray band) as the tour's FOH technician. Brent Pasdernick from Vancouver drew some 3D views of the rig so Nicol could check his spot angles and other details.
"He quickly got a couple of drawings together that helped me as far as truss and spot layout," Nicol says. "John Rummen [who had worked with Nicol on McLachlan's last solo tour] and I came up with the set design--the multilayered drape layout. Sarah picked the color scheme, and John designed the painted backdrop and the PA scrims. Ian Gordon (from Westsun) helped us out with choosing materials for the drapes, which were all made at Westsun."
Nicol chose a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II console last year for the flexibility he felt the desk would offer to the rest of the tour's LDs. "Then, of course, it seemed that the LDs who showed up were all Vari*Lite(R) Artisan(R) console users, which I had considered," Nicol says. "I decided to go with the Wholehog again because it's a good console. I'd like to learn more about it, and it served everyone's purposes really well."
Since many of the acts perform during daylight hours, many performers don't bring their LDs along with them. "We did have one day where, out of the five acts on the main stage, we had four LDs," Nicol says. "It was kind of amazing, really. I was there for Sarah, Jimmy Pettinato for the Indigo Girls, Jason Boyd for Natalie Merchant, and Ky Cabot for Bonnie Raitt. That was a lot of fun."
Nicol also had fun experimenting with the looks for McLachlan's set. "Last year I talked about using the big brush. Well, this year I got out a paint roller," he laughs. "I finally got a handle on making it look giant for everybody, including the people at the back. As long as the basics are covered, I'm happy with it. And I've been leaning more toward helping out the video guys, because I think the screens are real important in the sheds."
With audiences so large, Nicol also began using crowd blinders this year. "This is kind of unusual because she's not really that kind of act," Nicol says. "For a Sarah show the looks are pretty much rock and roll. There are even a couple of spots where I could get away with using pyro."
Pyro? For a Sarah McLachlan show? "There are two potential moments, either in the middle of 'Possession,' where she comes back in with the band, or during 'Building a Mystery' where she sings the line, 'You woke up screaming out loud.' I could come in with a pyro blast, and the kids would go crazy," Nicol says. "Something pretty, obviously--those silvery ones, or maybe one of those curtains that look like sparks falling down. I'm not talking fire blasts, but it's something to think about for next year."
So far, Nicol hasn't drastically changed his approach to lighting McLachlan's show. "I'm trying to work on having spotlights on her more often," he says. "She doesn't really like it when she's not doing anything, but I was at least keeping the upstage light on her as much as I could, so that the people who are way back can still see her--or still have an idea what they're looking at. I tried to think big and not worry about being too specific. You might change your focuses a little bit, but you're not going to reprogram a whole song. You can add cues in the afternoon, run it that night, and see if it looks good; if it doesn't, try to fix it the next day. But we seem to end up with pretty much whatever we programmed during pre-production. Just keep that and refine it. You've got the roller, but all you really get to do is touch up the edges."
Nicol's metaphorical painting equipment included High End Systems Technobeams(R) and Studio Colors(R), PAR cans with color scrollers, ETC Source Fours, 2kW four-light blinders, and MR-16 blinders with scrollers. For Nicol's firsthand observations about the new High End instruments, see "Technobeams on tour," page 104.
"Westsun was excellent to me, as usual, and my crew was fabulous--couldn't be better," Nicol says. "I'm really impressed with the way they managed to shoehorn it into some of those venues. We've actually got quite a big rig--it's 36 points. Lighting and rigging goes in at the same time, and they still manage to work it out and start sound checks at one o'clock. So it's up in three hours, and we start focusing four hours into it."
This schedule worked out well for all, as so many crews rotated in and out depending on which artists were on each day's roster. "Everybody had fun, but Bonnie Raitt's crew had a great time," Nicol says. "During the big sing-along at the end they pulled up the backdrop, and they were all standing on a giant riser wearing dresses and singing along. On Natalie's last night, her crew dressed up in clown outfits and the carpenter was dressed up as a strongman, because her set has a circus look. Sarah hired a bunch of real circus performers, so they also came out for the last song: There was a guy on stilts, a fire-eater, and a plate-spinner. It was hilarious."
Lilith Fair performed its last show September 23 in London's Royal Albert Hall and plans are already underway for next year's outing, which will probably include more European dates.
Lighting Designer/Operator Graeme B. Nicol
Crew Chief Jennifer Bernard
FOH Technician Stan Green
Automated Lighting Technician Andrew D.R. Copping
Dimmer Technician Jennifer Womack
Lighting Systems Technician Duncan Keith
Head Carpenter Isaac Kinakin
Assistant Carpenter Colin Reade
Rigger Kevin McCloy
Second Rigger Chris Jones
Set design John Rummen, Graeme B. Nicol
(24) High End Systems Technobeams (18) High End Systems Studio Colors (176) PAR-64s (24) PAR-64 scrollers (6) 2kW four-light blinders (6) 6' 3-circuit striplights (8) ETC Source Fours (12) 20 x MR-16 blinders with scrollers (2) Lycian 1,200W truss followspots (4) Lycian 400W truss followspots (2) Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II consoles (1) Jands ESP 24/48 console (3) ETC 48x2.4kW dimmers (1) Motion Laboratories 24-channel motor control system (40) Columbus McKinnon 1-ton and 1/2-ton chain hoists (2) Reel EFX DF-50 Diffusion hazers (5) assorted size mirror balls (36) Thomas Pre-Rigged Truss pieces (12) Thomas PRT corners (6) Thomas 45-degree corners (18) Thomas 12"x18"x10' general purpose truss pieces
Who doesn't love the outdoor summer festival? For one thing, there are all sorts of weather conditions to be dealt with, from rain to wind to extreme heat. And never mind the push to get the rig up and focused because doors open at 3pm, and--oh, yes--the need to sound check two bands and line check the other three.
My job as Sarah McLachlan's lighting designer/director was fleshed out, this year and last year, to include designing a rig for the Lilith Fair. There were only two conditions I had to meet. One, design a show that would work for Sarah, and two, design the same show with enough looks to do four other bands where all the LDs got everything. The first part was fairly easy, as I have been working for Sarah for five years and I know what I need to accomplish my task. The second part was not so easy, because I didn't want to go overboard with a pile of extra lamps and find that nobody had used them. At this point it became obvious that moving lamps were necessary, to give us the variety we needed.
Last year I went with a combination of High End Systems Cyberlights(R) and Vari*Lite(R) VL6s(TM). A Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II became the board of choice due to its ability to control different kinds of lamps, but I wasn't happy with the pan and tilt of the Vari*Lites on DMX. For this reason, and because of the nature of the business (where everything has to look different from, but also better than, last time--no wonder we go crazy), I decided to try a new fixture. I also felt that, as a designer, I had done everything I wanted to with VL6s and welcomed a new set of parameters and restrictions to keep my brain alive.
I looked at all the other moving lights, but price kept becoming an issue, as always. This is where the High End Technobeam(R) had the edge. For the price of 12 Cyberlights or VL6s, I could have 24 Technobeams. This appealed to me on a few levels, not the least of which was the overriding "more of everything" concept. Having lots of any lamp helps, should there be a malfunction.
I also knew that time and darkness would be two things in very short supply, so I wanted to make sure that I wasn't spending the whole day squinting into lamps trying to figure out if they were focused correctly. This dictated that most of my focuses would be generic, rather than player/position specific, so again, the more lamps I had, the easier this would be.
While I was out on a Sarah tour, we played in Austin, TX, for two nights, which gave me a chance to see a demo of the Technobeam at the High End office. Several members of our entourage went along, including the production manager. We were treated to a well-designed demo of the instrument, and pretty much decided at that point it would be a go. The fixture performed well and looked good. Technobeam features include 12 saturated dichroic colors plus one open (clear) position, and a fully indexable, rotating eight-position LithoPattern(R) wheel with seven replaceable Lithopatterns plus one open (clear) position. All this, plus the price Westsun could rent them for, stacked the odds in their favor.
Designing the rig presented the usual complications, but having used only moving-head fixtures for many years, the switch to moving mirrors raised some issues I had never really dealt with. To many designers it's a given, but the orientation of the lamp is extremely important to the coverage it will give. This soon became apparent to me, and a few of the Technobeams had to be reoriented. And, although the yoke system for the unit is very flexible, when the fixture is hung on one point there can be enough play to seriously alter the pan and tilt limits. We ended up experimenting with ways to hang the fixture inside prerigged truss so that it could hang only one way. Perhaps a two-yoke system is the answer.
The fixtures are quite light, so it was no problem to hang them on three moving trusses on double-speed half-ton motors. Two of the trusses are only 10' (3m) long, so the whole scale had to be kept in check, and I think we successfully accomplished this.
Most of the Technobeams sat around 30' (9m) from the deck. They had plenty of punch in open white and the less saturated colors, but had to fight to be seen while in the darker red/blue range. The way I ran my show I didn't miss color mixing, as the High End Studio Colors(R) took over in that area. The gobo selection is quite excellent, the resolution is very high, and of course they rotate (don't they all now?). The edge (or focus, if you prefer) is excellent and didn't really need tweaking throughout the course of the tour. There is no remote iris adjustment on the fixture. On a regular theatre/arena/club tour this might have been limiting, but it turned out to be more of a boon than an obstacle, as it gave me one less parameter to worry about checking during the 20-minute changeover between bands.
The Laser Aiming Device, or LAD(TM), didn't prove useful except as an effect, although it may have more utility in a smaller venue. In fact, my first cue of the night made use of the LAD, and a fine cue it is, although the LAD never cut through enough to be seen on video. An on/off switch on the lamp would have been useful, although not necessary.
Overall, the Technobeam is a fine fixture for the club/small theatre tour. I can't see myself using it as the only moving hard-edged lamp on a tour, but certainly at the price it would make an excellent effects lamp when used with other moving fixtures.