Matisyahu is perhaps one of the most original musical talents working in the industry today. His work defies easy description: a clever fusion of reggae, dub, and rap are just a few of the influences that led to his unique sound. A Hasidic Jew, he mixes his religion and spirituality into both his music and performances while appealing to a widely diverse audience. After a successful tour this summer opening for 311, Matisyahu returned to New York for his third annual Festival of Lights Hanukah concerts, two at Roseland in Manhattan and two at the Warsaw Club in Brooklyn. Marc Janowitz, lighting director and production manager for the tour and New York concerts, spoke about working on this holiday production.
LD: How did you start working with Matisyahu?
Marc Janowitz: In June 2006, Matis was planning a new tour and hired Marc Brickman as lighting designer, and he brought me in as programmer and lighting director. After the tour was out for a while, Marc gave his blessing for me to take it over and adapt it. I have been doing whatever we needed to do ever since. I have always operated all the shows. For an act like this, I really like to be hands-on. Musically, there is so much there, and sometimes it is hard to relay all that to someone else. It ebbs and flows, always changing. You get a new set list every night, but even during the show, it changes. All of a sudden, mid-show, there will be a surprise guest, and they will change the list. It is very organic.
LD: Matis is a very unique artist. How would you describe his shows and music?
MJ: Very diverse—it doesn’t fit into the categories that have been thrown at him, in my opinion. Matis and his band put together what I would call a good old-fashioned, original rock show. I think a lot of people don’t know what to expect when they hear about a Hasidic guy who gets up on stage and beatboxes, but behind it all, he is a regular, 28-year-old dude who is quite an interesting and inspiring person. He plays roller hockey. In fact, during Festival of Lights, he went on stage with a cane because he was playing roller hockey and tore his ACL. He also rides a Harley-Davidson, so he isn’t someone you easily put in a category.
LD: What was the design intent of the Festival of Lights concerts?
MJ: I really worked off the name, Festival of Lights. I tried to make it at times heavy rock, like his music, and at other times, very ethereal and sublime for the moments that are more intimate. There are a lot of times on stage that he is very introspective, and I wanted to really focus down on him but then take the points when the band is really rocking out and turn it into a big rock show. There is an underlying Jewish theme, so you always have to find a balance to reinforce that theme in the design. The original Brickman plot for the regular tour consisted
of truss towers of varying heights painted gold with a VL3000 on top of each one. It was suggestive of a menorah right from the start. For these New York shows, I wanted to build a 7' disco ball dreidel, but, as is pretty normal with these things, costs led us back to a 4'-round ball. The idea behind the disco ball was not for the disco feel but more for Festival of Lights, to have light broken into a million pieces shining all over the room, all over everything. Having that movement and texture seemed right at certain moments. I wanted to explore light—texturally, rhythmically, chromatically—starting with a single beam and breaking it apart throughout the show. I chose to light Matis’ cover of Grateful Dead’s “Morning Dew” entirely in white light from the disco ball and from the Falcon flowers. There were tiny moving shafts of light everywhere in the room. When you don’t see the source itself, you kind of get that “Big Bang, start-of-the-universe Genesis” thing, with light particles shooting in every direction. That is also why I employed the Falcons with the flower heads behind the band. The effect of four of those in Xenon along the upstage edge was, at times, absolutely spectacular. The were also four more Falcons without the flower heads above, about 15' from the downstage edge. As Colin Waters of TMB says, “Xenon is the light of the gods,” and I agree with him. I love the beam. You can go anywhere from a pinspot all the way out to a nice wide wash, and with the various color changing and beam options, you can use them in so many ways.
LD: What was some of the other equipment?
MJ: overall, being able to use the Wholehog 3 platform since the beginning last summer has really helped. I knew that first tour would give way to other things over time, like changing fixture types, and the patch replace feature on that Wholehog 3 is very powerful. I took this rig from being a Vari-Lite rig to shows in Israel where they only had [Martin] MAC 2000s and kept building on that. It is a great feature on the console. Also the Atomic strobes have the ability to cut through everything with a brilliant Xenon source to accent moments and shimmer other moments. The color changer is awesome in that you can match that source to the palette on stage or cut through a deep solemn moment with white light.
LD: How did you like production managing?
MJ: I realized two things: one, I’m not half bad at it; two, it’s a far cry from lighting design, and I’m not yet ready to venture that far full-time. I did learn more about audio and backline than any LD should ever have to know.
Lighting and Effects Gear
18 Martin MAC 2000 Profile
9 Martin MAC 2000 Wash
18 Martin Atomic 3000 Strobes w/Color Changer
6 8-Lights with Morpheus Color Faders
4 Falcon 3kW Searchlight
4 Falcon 3kW with Flower Head
24 PAR64 MFL 1kW
2 Strong Super Trouper Followspot
1 High End Systems Hog 3 IPC
1 High End Systems Wholehog 3 Rock Wing
4 Altman UV705 with Juliat Dowsers
1 48" Mirror Ball
4 Reel EFX DF-50 Hazer
1 JEM ZR33
Lighting Suppliers For Festival of Lights
BML/Blackbird (Eliot Krowe, Shelly Diamond, Bob Looney)
A&O Falcon Rentals USA/TMB
Matisyahu Tour Lighting Vendors
Upstaging, Scharff Weisberg
Tour Manager: Ben Perlstein
Lighting Director/Production Manager: Marc Janowitz
Lighting Tech (Matisyahu): Andrew F. Cass
Lighting Tech (BML): Russell Felton
Lighting Tech (BML): Jimmy Delayo