Jay Waddell, lighting designer for Needtobreathe, has been involved with the band for just over a year. "I met them through my first gig, which was tour-managing a band out of Chicago called Absentstar," he says. "One of the tours we did was with Needtobreathe, and we often exchanged services where I would do lights during their set, and their FOH guy would run sound or monitors for us." Once Absentstar's tour schedule slowed a bit, and Needtobreathe's picked up, the band asked Waddell to join them.
"Our philosophy as a band has always been that, to be a headliner, you have to play like a headliner," Waddell says. "People laugh when we open up our trailer at a club at the amount of stuff that we bring into these clubs every night because, really, no one ever has. Our goal on this tour was to put on a show that no one had ever seen before on that level, make it so that anyone that saw it would tell everyone about it, and most importantly, would make everyone in the room come back to see us again."
This latest outing represents an upgrade to the band's design, adding new gear to accommodate small clubs and theatres, ranging from 1,000 to as few as 250 seats, with the average of about 400 to 600. "Until this tour, we had never taken out any production gear aside from some Christmas lights I controlled with a power strip," Waddell says. "There was a massive learning curve for all of us as to what was available to take out and how to make it work. We knew that whatever we took out was going to need to be flexible in size, easy and quick to set up, and somewhat easy to use."
Waddell's most recent design for these small-venue gigs includes eight sections of Mega-Lite's 75mm Enigma Net, configured into four 8'x4' panels and mounted inside custom aluminum free-standing frames built by Atlantic Fabricators in Charleston, with scrim stretched across the front to display album art while the Nets are off. The frames are adjustable in height from 8' to approximately 12', so the smallest footprint is 8' tall by 16' wide and can fit into almost any venue. "When given the space, the optimal setup is about 12' high and 20' wide," Waddell says.
An Apple Mac Mini computer runs Enigma Net software for the Nets, as well as Mega-Lite Disco DMX control software for four Mega-Lite N-E Color Strips. The Nets and Color Strips supplement house lighting at each location, which can be a crap-shoot. "Some nights the house lights are terrible, and some nights they're great," says Waddell, adding that his gear is independent of the house lights, as he sits next to the lighting console and runs his system on the fly. "You walk into some clubs that have two or three pairs of PARs that don't match and flicker when you dim them. These places make us very grateful that we carry our own stuff." Mega-Lite supplied the lighting gear directly to the tour.
"I have a page programmed for each song on my rig where I can advance the cue list during the song," Waddell continues. "The house lights also run primarily on the fly. I have specific colors I use for each song, if the club has them, which match our content." The Color Strips are used for color-changing of the scrim and the album art. "This gives us a lot of different looks and adds tons of depth to the stage," says Waddell."
Waddell ensures content is not over-the-top for the small venues and complements the music well, he says, "so that you don't watch the lights the whole time or the band the whole time. You just enjoy the show as a whole and recognize that there are lots of impressive things going on but you're never distracted from the music." He uses the designer feature in the Enigma Net software for some content but notes that most comes from stock video websites and DVDs of moving backgrounds and transitions. Additional content is created in Adobe Photoshop. "We basically found as much content as we could in the few days that we had to program the show, flagged certain things that we knew fit in a particular song, and built the rest of the song around that piece of content," he adds.
For an interesting twist on special effects and because the tour doesn't carry any hazers or smoke machines—nor do most of the venues have any in-house—the band burns incense on stage, and Weddell finds that it actually works well for the small house rigs.
With a few dates left into 2010, Needtobreathe also plans to do another headlining tour starting in March and running through May with the current setup, Waddell says, "possibly reconfiguring its shape and adding some new fixtures to build on the set. We want to make sure people seeing us again won't be seeing the same show, but at the same time believe that there is a lot more we can do with what we have to make the show different and take it up to a new level."