Jazz Aspen, which took place last year at Aspen's new Snowmass Village Town Park, is a different kind of outdoor festival. Yes, there's a huge steel stage. Yes, it takes place outdoors. Yes, there is food. But that's where the similarities to typical festivals end. The headliners this year included Neil Young and Tom Petty, cuisine at the food court ranged from east Indian to sushi, and retail vendors hawked wares from as far away as Tibet.
The nuts-and-bolts of the show started coming together a week earlier. “We start on the stage on Monday, and there's two days for building,” says Paul Jessop, the event's technical director. “Then the lighting comes in on Wednesday, sound comes in on Thursday, and the bands come in on Friday, with doors opening at 4 p.m.”
Jessop brought in longtime rental suppliers of the event to once again provide equipment, including Stageco of Colorado Springs, Colo. for the staging, Audio Visions of Omaha, Neb. for audio, StagePro of Lawrence, Kan. for lighting, Aggreko of Denver for power, and a new participant in the Aspen party: Impact Video of Burbank, Calif. to provide mobile LED video services.
The festival's gear package was fairly straightforward, according to Jessop. “Audio Visions supplied a new JBL VerTec Line Array system this year, and it performed well,” he says. The lighting package was also quite streamlined, since performances end by 9 p.m., including a combination of 12 Martin MAC 500's and 600's, as well as conventional fixtures.
Remote Video Needed
Though the gear was straightforward, the festival's need to accommodate a standard touring show at its new, permanent location at the Snowmass Village Town Park, was not.
“This is the first time we've had anybody come in with anything other than a backdrop or a few prop pieces,” Jessop says, referring to acts like Neil Young, who were already touring the nation and were coming in with far more than a modest backdrop. Jessop and his team really had to plan ahead.
“We had to extend the performance area and roof to accommodate [Young's] show, so we added 6ft. of depth to the stage deck, and we had to fabricate a new roof skin to extend the roof out to keep our [front-of-house] lighting position the same,” Jessop explains.
Young's show included an LED screen on the upstage wall, as well as several large set pieces. “Each of our headliners had a minimum of two trucks, but I think Neil Young had a total of five,” Jessop says.
Since the park represented an entirely new and more spacious location for the festival, other technical challenges were posed outside of the actual stage and immediate vicinity. Producers faced two major challenges. First, a local highway split the festival site in half, with the stage on one side of the highway, and the food and retail area on the other side. Jessop wanted to keep the vendors and the patrons in the food and retail area from being isolated from the rest of the festival, so the festival would have a cohesive feel despite the highway division. Festival director Joe Lang asked Jessop to find a solution using video to link both areas.
“Using projection screens outside is never a good idea, since flimsy projection screens can turn into sails in the wind,” Jessop says. So, he started looking at LED screens.
“I've used LED screens outside in the past, but at that point, we were using a free-standing wall made up of individual panels,” he explains. “For this application, I needed the bottom of the screen at a minimum of 20ft., and aesthetically, I thought of using a crane or building a steel structure to support the panels, which can total over 2,000lbs., so that just wouldn't work.”
The natural beauty of the site was also a consideration, so Jessop started looking for a solution that would have a clean, non-intrusive look to compliment the environment. While researching his options, Jessop got in touch with Impact Video of Burbank, Calif., which had the Illuminator, a customized, mobile truck with a built-in LED screen, available that weekend. The Illuminator was the solution to Jessop's problem.
Impact's custom designed Illuminator LED system is extremely sophisticated. The LED panels, made by Nichia of Japan, have been configured into an LED screen that measures 12'×16'. The truck features a full multi-source video control room capable of producing a complete multi-camera show. The screen's processing and electronics are controlled by the 15mm Chromatek LED System, and offers true 15mm pixel pitch (the physical distance in millimeters from the center of each LED panel to the center of the next panel of the same color.) A computer-controlled hydraulic system manages the physical movement and rotation of the screen, with multiple sensors and a programmable logic controller used to activate the screen via wireless remote control.
“Right now, 15mm is the tightest pixel pitch screen available on an LED screen in a truck in North America,” Graham Buttrey, Impact's sales manager, says. Impact's screen uses true pixel pitch, as opposed to what's called virtual, or shared, pixel pitch, which purports to go as low as 10mm.
“The shared pixel fools the eye into thinking that two pixel clusters are, in fact, a single pixel cluster,” Buttrey explains. “Shared pixels are simply not true resolutions. Our pixel pitch allows the audience to get closer to the screen with a clearer image.”
Using true pixel pitch is especially important when you have still images on the LED screen, which were used occasionally at the Jazz Aspen event. According to Buttrey, the still images are static, so it's easier for viewers to tell how high, or low, the actual resolution is. Since the Illuminator uses true pixel pitch, no such clarity issues cropped up in Aspen.
The Illuminator's mobile LED screen is an upgrade from Imagine's original version of the truck, thanks to improved processing from Chromatek's 10-bit processing system. “When we upgraded from an 8-bit processor to a 10-bit processor, we got a faster processor that is capable of displaying much higher quality color and brightness,” says Buttrey.
Another strength of the Illuminator truck is the makeup of its audio system, which includes 12,500W of Bose Panaray sound. The primary cabinets are hung off the bottom of the LED wall, while the subwoofers are on the mast of the LED wall. “Each of the four clusters hung on the bottom of the wall has an individual motor controller, so you can angle them to cover the exact area that needs to be covered,” Buttrey says.
The truck's standard audio package also includes eight Bose 1800 V amps, 2 Shure UHF series wireless microphones, a Denon DN-T620 CD/cassette player, four Bose LT 4402-II Panaray speakers, and six 502 Bose BEX Extended Range Subwoofers. A Yamaha Pro-Mix 01/16 channel console controls it all.
“I've never had to utilize all sixteen channels, and to be honest, I've never had the audio system above halfway without being told to turn it down,” Buttrey says. He claims the sound is so dynamic that it can be used in a small stadium.
From a technical standpoint, the physical location of the Illuminator at the Aspen festival — near the food and retail area, about an 800ft. to 900ft. cable run from the stage — did present a technical challenge.
In most festival situations, such screens run without audio. This was not the case at Jazz Aspen. Of course, the video needed to match the audio. “We ended up using a Broadcast Video Systems video delay unit [JD series] that slowed the signal down, and we got it very close — within a couple of milliseconds — so that the crowds couldn't notice any difference,” explains Buttrey.
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. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org