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Essence Music Festival is a three-day concert and cultural seminar series held in the Louisiana Superdome and Louis Armstrong Convention Center, respectively. It is the largest African-American music and empowerment event in the country, and 2009 had the highest attendance in Essence history, with top performers including Beyoncé, Lionel Richie, Anita Baker, Ne-Yo, John Legend, and Maxwell.

The concept was to have the stage be more readable as one sculpture. Most important was achieving one fluent look that read horizontally from left to right, and vertically from the top of the stage down through the floor. This required avoidance of free-floating screens by framing and connecting the screens, creating a winged effect. In addition, the stage design needed to be flexible enough to accommodate four to five acts per night. It’s necessary to swap in and out the individual needs of each performer and crew, while maintaining the integrity of the overall festival design. In addition, the stage needed to function as a large curtain hiding two separate areas from the audience; stage-left served as a work deck to stage all equipment for each act, and stage-right a VIP bleacher with an additional backstage area.

The 2009 event was the festival’s 15th anniversary; the design was an abstract reflection of a celebration and timeline, to show the significance of this recurrent festival with celebratory imagery, like fireworks, in a digital time tracing format. Element Labs Versa Tubes were chosen as vessels for this light traveling appearance, light strokes fading in and out, creating a circuit-board-like effect. The Versa Tubes became part of the video controlled elements, instead of lighting elements, as these docked in visually into the Barco MiPix curved LED panels; the curved MiPix lines docked onto a Barco MiTrix LED curtain left and right of stage, integrating the I-Mag Barco SLite screens.

The challenge was programming the light to travel through the Versa Tubes continuously, with the additional element of creating a digital texture of “fillings” in between these lines on the MiTtrix screens. Like the pulsating comets of light racing through the circuit board, these effects could shrink, grow, and disappear.

We created vignettes for artists by finding specific elements to emphasize the individual style of that particular musician (such as digital rain backdrop for Ne-Yo and candlelight atmosphere for John Legend). The aim was to achieve your own festival identity and overall look without taking away from the individual character of the artists.

The circuit-board design was also transferred over into the VIP lounge, giving the feeling of not only being part of the performances but on the actual stage. Light tape was installed onto the makeshift floor, creating multiple lit paths. These complimented the lines on the main stage.

Design Team
Production designer: Stefan Beese (RE:BE Design)
3D design: Seyavash Zohoori
Video lighting design: Ray Zeigler
Set lighting design: John Clarke

Video Crew
Media server programmer: Dan Valcich
Graphic artist: Dustin McCollum

XL Video Crew
LED engineer: Gary Madura
LED Technicians: Steve Otten, Prince Tilahun, Luke Pilato, David Chapman

Lighting Crew
Ron Fietmaster, Rob Chase, Lance Dennis, John Bailey, Matt Gassey

Rigging
Steve Brown, Rhino Staging

Vendors
Video: Event Producers, XL Video, Visibility Media
Lighting: Premier Global Production Company (Steven Creech Anderson)
Rigging: Rhino Staging, Inc.
Soft Goods/VIP Lounge: Mardi Gras Productions Inc.

Equipment
1,975 Barco MiTrix Panel
36 Barco TopMix Panel (MiPix Modules)
2 Barco SLite 10 XP Screen
312 Element Labs Versa Tube
1 Pixled F-30 Screen
1 Hibino Chromatek 6mm Screen
1 Barco High End Systems Wholehog 3
1 Barco High End Systems Hog3PC
7 SAMSC Catalyst PM v4 Media Server
2 MA Lighting grandMA 2 Console
30 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Profile
30 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Wash
32 Barco/High End Systems x.Spot Extreme
4 Novalight High Ground
6 Coemar Panorama Cyc
7 Mole Richardson Molefay 8-Light
6 ETC Source Four Ellipsoidal 19°
2 ETC Sensor+ 48-Way Dimmer Rack
2 Motion Labs 60-Way 208V Distro
1 ProPower 48-Way 208V Distro
30 1-Ton Hoist