Jeep World Outside Festival: Multi-task Staging

The lighting scheme for Sheryl Crow’s performance was meant to emulate the "big stadium-rock look" from the 1970s.

The Jeep World Outside Festival that toured select cities this summer was hardly a typical music festival, particularly from a staging point of view. The event hit 23 cities in 40 days, and featured the expected musical lineup on its main stage (Sheryl Crow, Train, Ziggy Marley, O.A.R., and others). But the event also offered video entertainment, a second stage with more musical acts, and an area for fans to engage in raucous outdoor activities.

The festival was the brainchild of tour director Jim Lewi, who had been developing the concept for several years. This past spring, all the pieces fell into place, and Sheryl Crow was brought on board as the primary talent. The challenge then became to stage a Crow-led music-fest on the main stage, more music on the second stage, and simultaneously hold several non-stop, audience-participation events around the second stage.

Two Shows in One

The production split into two distinct areas: the main stage and the second stage/village area.

“The only commonality between the village and the main stage is that their production facility and our production facility for the main stage were generally in the same area,” explains Andy Sottile, the event's system engineer/audio crew chief. “But beyond that, we had two totally different, full-blown shows going on.”

Sheryl Crow's team determined much of the production on the main stage, since they were already planning her tour. “When Sheryl became the headliner, she made sure that her production design became the tour's design,” reports Paul Guthrie, Sheryl Crow's show designer who was responsible for both lighting and video content on the tour. “In fact, we had already done the design when all of this came up.”

Guthrie explains the general design of the show as an attempt by Crow to reinvent herself in a stadium-rock sort of way.

“The initial idea for this tour came from a '70s big rock show feel — we really liked the feeling of the live Queen shows and the Zeppelin movie, The Song Remains the Same, so we came out with a look that featured what appeared to be racks of PAR cans,” Guthrie explains.

To produce the PAR can look, Guthrie did not actually use PARS, which are rarely seen on large, big-budget concert tours anymore. Instead, he used an automated light fixture, the Vari-Lite VL5. “I've liked Vari-Lite equipment for a long time, and we wanted something that conveyed a PAR can look,” he adds. “The Vari-Lite VL5 [provided by VLPS, Los Angeles] totally fit that concept, being a tungsten light.”

To get that stadium rock look, Guthrie configured the VL5s into four 5'×5' pods. “We had 100 VL5s in the pods — they raked [tilted], came in-and-out, and actually moved during the show,” he reports.

The pods, which were also completely pre-rigged, were designed by Guthrie and fabricated by B & R Scenery, Camarillo, Calif. “The pods land in wheel dollies and crack apart into 2'×5' and 3'×5' banks,” the designer explains. “The whole arrangement rolled into the truck in under five minutes.” He adds that, thanks to the VL5s, the pods put out a wall of light, allowing the units themselves to dominate the show.

“The VL5 seemed to be the workhorse,” Guthrie continues. “I had 112 of them, and they created the majority of the looks with the pods. Having a big bank of lights gave me a lot to play with.”

The show's color palette was designed to correspond to the nouveau retro look.

“The color palette was very strong, saturated colors, like the old limited color range that dominated most of those ['70s] shows,” Guthrie notes. “Pastels really hadn't made it into the Lee and Rosco [lighting gel] swatch books at that time.”

Audio Accomplishments

While Guthrie's Vari-Lites kept Crow and company illuminated, a Clair Brothers i4 Line Array system kept the music alive, courtesy of Nashville's MD/Clair.

“It's our flagship system at the moment — very compact, low profile, as well as very high power and hi-fi,” notes Ralph Mastrangelo, account representative at Clair Brothers. The system, which has been on the market for several years, features streamlined cabinets that are popular on the road.

“Designers tend to design shows around a small, thin column of speakers,” explains Sottile, who adds that the i4 Line Array features such columns, and they have more acoustic power than traditional speaker cabinets. “The imaging of the PA, the way things sound aurally and spatially are excellent. Our Line Array system just simply sounds better, and usually you end up using a lot less of it.”

Sottile and his crew did indeed use a smaller number of cabinets on the tour. “For this particular system, we flew 12 cabinets a side, with complimentary low-end cabinets that hang in the air — those would be the i4Bs,” he says, adding that the cabinets were flown via four rigging points per side. “Because of the way the Line Array was configured and hung, you actually end up using fewer rigging points than a big box system.”

Crew loads racks of Vari-Lite VL5 light fixtures, configured to resemble a PAR can look, prior to a Sheryl Crow performance at the Jeep World Outside Festival. Photo courtesy Paul Guthrie

Working with numerous bands on stage each night was a big challenge, but one that was overcome with help from the fully digital Yamaha PM1D console, which, because of its functionality, saved the crew from having to set up racks of outboard gear.

“It was really nice to have the Yamaha PM1D out there,” says Sottile. “With five acts on stage every night, having a totally recallable console is definitely the best way to go.”

The PM1D also has an impressive effects system integrated into the console itself. “We had a minimum of outboard effects because the PM1D has all kinds of processing and such available in it — it's a very powerful tool,” he adds. “On each channel, there are compressors and gates that, quite frankly, eliminate the need for a lot of peripheral gear. Also, in this console, there's a whole library of Yamaha effects that you can choose from that are also totally recallable.”

Still, Crow's performances did take advantage of a few “toys,” Sottile confesses. “Sheryl has a few tube compressors here and there, we're using some TC delay units, some distressors, and a couple of old DBX 160 compressors, and that's pretty much it,” he notes.

The PM1D could also be found at the monitor position. “In monitors, you're using the output capability of the console a lot more,” Sottile explains. “At the front of house position, you've got overkill with the number of outputs on this console. If you're using it for monitors, you have plenty of tools to work with, and there's no such thing as overkill in monitors these days.”

Killer Video

Completing the picture at the main stage was the video system, provided by the Los Angeles-based touring division of XL Video.

“Initially, there was some resistance toward using video on this tour,” explains Guthrie, who also created the video content for the tour. “As things materialized, we realized that having a big video wall would offer a lot of power, and it was also something that was reliably riggable at most outdoor venues, as opposed to drapes and things like that. The video wall also filled in well with our big rock theme.”

The tour featured a huge Barco D14 LED wall, which is a digital system.

“If you start off with a digital image, which the playback system on the Sheryl Crow tour had, when you use the D14, it's digital from beginning to end,” remarks Bob Higgins, VP of XL Video. He adds that the D14, which is an outdoor system that can tolerate bad weather, was driven by a Doremi hard drive system.

“It's the advancement of technology on a hard drive, rather than tape playback,” explains Higgins. “You take what you have on your computer as a hard drive and translate that into full motion playback. Basically, you have the replacement of analog videotape transport.”

The tour's video content was designed to be unusual, to say the least, according to Guthrie, relying on one camera that was not aimed at Crow.

“Sheryl's face never appeared,” Guthrie explains. “We had one camera in the air that our second lighting rigger volunteered to operate each night, fishing for crowd shots for the song ‘Happy’.”

The main stage was an IMAG-free zone for the show, with a determination to highlight something other than giant versions of the performers. Instead, the video content, which was used for approximately 13 songs each night depending on the playlist, was created by Guthrie at his Minneapolis company, Toss Film and Design.

Designer Paul Guthrie created video content thematically matched to specific Crow songs during the Festival. Photo courtesy Paul Guthrie

“We used a wide variety of images, from stock footage to hand-drawn animation,” he explains. “I basically did a four-minute, seamless, hand-drawn outline animation of a whole bunch of scenes from Steve McQueen movies, and we ran them in synch with the song ‘Steve McQueen’. For the song, ‘You're an Original’, I did a faux neon thing, something you'd see on a boy-band video. It looks like there's a whole bunch of neon patterns flashing at the pack, and it spells out the word ‘original.’”

While many tours have separate people handling video content and lighting, Guthrie handled both for the Crow tour. “The advantage of doing everything is that I can build the video, knowing what I'm going to do with the lights and vice versa, so it was always a complete package in mind when I was building both,” he notes.

Meanwhile, In the Village

While the action on the main stage was focused on the music, there was much more outside. Specifically, the second stage and village area — christened the Outside Magazine Adventure Village — comprised the other side of the tour. “This was for people who go rock climbing, kayaking, and scuba diving — like Lollapalooza for outdoor types,” explains Jim Lenahan, the festival's production designer.

Lenahan says the show's design concept, after many changes over the years, finally settled in as “a digital take on the outdoors.” This approach was executed mainly in graphic treatments, which were obviously on the towers, the base camp, and some of the attractions themselves.

“We also have PA scrims [translucent material used in theatrical productions] on the main stage, which tied that part of the show into the village,” Lenahan adds.

The concept behind the village, adds Lenahan, was to make it as interactive as possible with a variety of demos, vendors, and hands-on activities. Indeed, village visitors found opportunities to rock climb on a 24ft. tower; ski or snowboard in a specially designed space complete with a pitch-controlled, treadmill-like device used to improve technique; and check out the mountain bike area with professional riders who helped visitors select the right bike to ride.

The village also featured water attractions with professionals giving lessons and tips. That area consisted of two 20'×40' tanks, each filled with approximately 30,000 gallons of water. There, novices learned the art of kayaking and scuba diving. The kayak pool contained a massive wave machine, creating the feel of rushing rapids.

Three times a day, the village also featured stunt shows, including world-renowned mountain bike stunt riders, freestyle skiers, and snowboarding pros performing acrobatics on a 35ft. ski jump.

“The ski jump was built onto a semi-trailer bed, with hydraulics, so when you got to the gig, it folded back into a 30ft. tall by 70ft. long ski jump topped with [a material similar to Astroturf],” Lenahan explains.

Village Design

The stunt shows were grouped together around the second stage, which hosted between five to seven different bands, depending on the tour date. The stage itself was a Stageline SL 250, which is actually a stage that rolls out of a truck.

“The actual [second] stage space was 32ft. wide and 24ft. deep. It unfolded hydraulically, and it had a roof,” recalls Tom Hudak, production coordinator. A similar unit was used to create the ski jump, according to Hudak. Crews simply had to “bring it in, place it, level it, lift it up, and then we put our scrims on it, and it's a ski jump,” he explains.

Hudak had the action paced so that while patrons were trying out the various outdoor activities, music was being performed on the main stage. Then, when the stage was dark, there was either a ski jump show or a mountain bike show.

“I placed my ski jump so that it was next to the second stage, and the guys were jumping toward the audience, which worked out perfect,” says Hudak. On the other side of the stage was the mountain bike trials area, which was also conveniently located. “People can then move right over to the bike trials area while they're doing a changeover on stage,” he adds.

Grouping the ski jump, the second stage, and the mountain bike areas together worked well, according to Hudak, but it was not the original plan.

“When we first started, we tried to split everything up on different plazas — the kayak and scuba tanks were on one plaza, the ski trainers and climbing wall were on another, and so on, so they were totally opposite each other,” Hudak recalls. “But the second stage never really fit into the equation, since it was out in the parking lot.”

After re-thinking the configuration, Hudak put everything together out in the parking lot, which was actually more practical from a loading point of view, as it turned out.

The Festival village featured this 35ft. ski jump, built out of a hydraulic system set up out of a truck bed.

“Ideally, I wanted to drive my trucks [the village area had seven] into the area where I was going to set up the village, and unload them all there,” he explains. That goal was easily achieved once everything was set up in the parking lot area. “What killed us in the beginning was splitting things up on the plaza,” he adds. “During the load-out, we couldn't bring heavy equipment into the area while there were still people there, and that caused delays.”

Second Stage Audio

Putting the main show areas and the second stage area together also gave the ski jump area the use of the audio system from the second stage. “We didn't originally plan on sharing the PA system,” Hudak notes. “But after we ran the show for about a week, we discovered that it really made sense.”

As it turned out, the tour used 16 stacked Clair Brothers R-4III enclosures at the second stage, which was double the original specification of eight. “I think it was the right number for the second stage,” says Mastrangelo. “It's better to have more and not need them than to need more and not have them.”

Rounding out the audio picture was a Yamaha 3000 console and a Ramsa 840 for monitors, Crest and Carver amps (also at the main stage), as well a variety of microphones from all major manufacturers.

Of course, sound reinforcement didn't stop at the second stage. The production also used JBL Eon speakers on stands with Rane MLM 42 mixers.

“That audio is mostly for public address in the attraction areas,” Mastrangelo notes, adding that the system was also used to direct patrons to activities in the village area. “They wanted patrons milling around, they didn't want them just parked in the pavilion. So the set changes were timed so that people could get out and see another act, or go participate in one of the other activities.”

From a logistical standpoint, Hudak's second stage required as much work as the main stage. Indeed, the second stage/village area typically used 40 local stagehands, as well as five forklift drivers, and they all began their day around 7 a.m. The first bike trials show started at 3:05 p.m., and after a day filled with bands, shows, and activities, closed down at 8:05 p.m., sending the audience back to hear the act on the main stage at that time.

Sharon Stancavage is contributing editor for Lighting Dimensions magazine and has penned articles on a variety of topics for numerous trade publications over the years.