Two benefit concerts raise millions for the victims of September 11

Like most Americans, those in the lighting industry have felt helpless in the wake of the September 11 attacks. A chance to help those directly affected by the tragedy came less than three weeks after those events, when a number of companies provided the lighting for two major benefit concerts, both of which took place in one weekend.

First up was the Concert for New York City, on Saturday, October 20, at Madison Square Garden. Organized by Paul McCartney, the event attracted such big-name rock stars as David Bowie, The Who, Billy Joel, Elton John, Bon Jovi, James Taylor, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards. The guests of honor were thousands of firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical technicians and their families, who held up photos of the loved ones they had lost. It was a chance for them to blow off some steam and have an enjoyable evening in service of a worthy cause: raising over $30 million dollars to benefit those hit hardest.

LD Roy Bennett oversaw the lighting for the five-hour-plus multifaceted production, which was broadcast on VH1 and PBS. “I had also done the New York part of the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon, so that may have inspired VH1 to call me,” Bennett says. “I had used VLPS's equipment on that show, and when they heard about this one, Susan Tesh from VLPS Los Angeles called offering to provide anything I could use.”

The production for the Concert for New York was very large and put together in a very short time. The crews started loading in the equipment on Wednesday, October 17. Simultaneously, the programmers, Laura Frank and Patrick Dierson, took their respective consoles, an LSD Icon Console for Frank and an MA Lighting grandMA for Dierson, to Prelite NY for pre-programming. “Once again, Prelite saves the day,” says Dierson. Prelite NY is a rendering and real-time visualization studio for creating virtual concert sets and lighting, allowing designers and programmers to pre-program a show in peace and quiet. “We brought the consoles to their studio,” Dierson continues, “and worked with Rodd McLaughlin on hooking them together and linking to Prelite's computer system to link up to WYSIWYG. This made the pre-programming a whole lot easier and saved us a lot of time on-site.” Frank controlled all of the LSD Icon® fixtures and the automated fixtures in the rig with the Icon board. Dierson ran the grandMA console that handled the automated fixtures for the set and on the deck. There was also an ETC Expression 3 controlling the conventional lights, which included 300 ETC Source Four PAR fixtures for the audience lighting.

Many different lighting companies donated equipment through their local dealers or through their own production arms, as in the case of Vari-Lite. For the lighting rig, Bennett had a lot of toys to choose from. The equipment list included 64 LSD Icon® fixtures, 58 High End Systems Studio Beam PCs, 12 High End Studio Colors®, 24 Coemar CF 1200s, and 36 Vari*Lite® VL4s and 30 VL6s. The Icon fixtures and control were provided by Fourth Phase, the grandMA was provided by AC Lighting Inc., and the Coemar equipment, Expression console, trussing, and conventional fixtures were provided by See Factor.

Martin Professional, working through Shadowstone Inc., provided six MAC 2000 fixtures, which Bennett used for aerial fill light as well as sidelight texture for the host positions. “It was important to fill in for closeup camera shots,” says Dierson. Bennett also used eight Coemar motorized Panorama Cyc fixtures and six Syncrolite SX3K Skylights, 3kW automated xenon fixtures, for the set pieces. The Skylights, provided through Special Events Available Light (SEAL), were used for the main centerpiece flown 30' upstage and used for audience, set, and backlighting. “The VL6s were also used for background air texture in the long shots,” says Dierson.

“It was incredible — everybody worked really hard, especially Laura Frank and Patrick Dierson,” Bennett says. VLPS also sent along two technicians, John Ellar and Kris Wood, to help out with all their gear. “VLPS's participation and eagerness to help on both of these benefits was wonderful. They were very supportive. VLPS provides the most reliable and television-friendly automated lights. You always know what you are going to get and that it's going to work, which is so important when you're pressed for time. You can't ask for more than that.”

UNITED WE STAND

The next day, Sunday, October 21, the stage was set for the United We Stand concert at RFK stadium in Washington, DC. For this show, the Backstreet Boys shared the stage with boy band rivals NSync as well as Bette Midler, KISS, James Brown, Ricky Martin, Carlos Santana, and Michael Jackson, just to name a few. LD Kieran Healy had less than five days to put the lighting package together before loading in this extravaganza. Like Bennett, Healy had handled the lighting duties for the Los Angeles section of the September America: A Tribute to Heroes.

Both director Jeff Margolis and production manager Jake Berry called Healy asking for his services. “The call to confirm was only 10 days before we actually shot the show, which is a ridiculous amount of time,” says Healy. “They did have the lineup of performers, but that wasn't confirmed until very late in the day. Plus, there were two performance stages. So I had to throw together a lighting design very quickly and get equipment out there. At that point, I called Susan Tesh and said, ‘Help! What do you have available?’ As I was calling the equipment list out to VLPS, they were quite literally loading everything onto the trucks.”

Healy's design included 30 Vari*Lite VL2402s, 10 VL2416s, 32 VL4s, and 136 VL5Arcs for washes, and 58 VL6Cs, and 164 VL2C spot luminaires, and Virtuoso and Flying Pig Wholehog systems for control. “With a show like this, you have to deal with the daylight issue where you have to fill against the sun,” Healy explains. “I needed HMIs for that, so I called Musco Lighting. Then there is the issue of coming up with lighting that will satisfy all the acts. So I used the VL5Arc luminaires to light the field and the VL2416s, the VL2402s, and the VL4s for wash luminaires and the VL2C spot luminaires, which is the workhorse for specific focus and effects. It went together amazingly well, given the amount of prep time.” Healy also used 17 Syncrolite SX7K and six SX3K Skylight automated xenon fixtures donated by Syncrolite under the control of Syncrolite technician Stanley Kimberlin.

Healy gives much credit to the whole crew and the programmers, David Arch and Bryan Faris. VLPS had two technicians out of New York, Adam Kuhn and Peter Acken. “We split it between two boards in order to make it a little easier to program — you need boards that are very versatile for a situation like this,” says Healy. “My history with VLPS goes back to using the VL1 luminaire, so I've been working with them since 1981. They've always given me incredible service and packages. It's always a pleasure to work with them.”

Like our nation, the entertainment technology industry has been hit hard. The economic future for our industry does not look very bright at the moment, but, like New York in particular and the US in general, we are a very resilient people. One can certainly take heart from how quickly and efficiently the members of our industry worked to make these events happen. In their own way, they are heroes, too.

Contact the author at meddy@primediabusiness.com.