When fans of country music got together at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville grandMA was center stage. Lighting/production designer Mike Swinford used five grandMA consoles and three grandMA video servers to cover the concert portion of the four-day celebration, which aired July 23 as the ABC special, “Country’s Night to Rock.” A.C.T Lighting is the exclusive distributor of the grandMA in North America.

The CMA Music Festival, presented annually by the Country Music Association, regularly attracts more than 161,000 fans from around the world. The gathering is attended by up-and-coming stars, current fan favorites, and legendary performers and features artist/fan interaction, autograph signings, photo ops, more than 70 hours of concerts, and family activities.

“The show is the centerpiece of a huge music festival that draws fans from all over the world,” says lighting director/programmer Mark Butts. “When ABC started to broadcast it a few years ago it really upped the ante in terms of design and production. For us, the show is an interesting hybrid of on the fly, festival-style lighting and tightly-cued, precise television lighting. It's difficult trying to work in both worlds simultaneously, but it sure keeps things interesting.”

Even though the show is a network special there’s very little camera rehearsal, Butts reports. “We look at everything for about an hour the night before the first show. This means that the first time we see a song, we’re taping. This year they only recorded the songs marked for potential broadcast so I went to our previz studio in the morning and programmed all of the songs for that evening's show. Even with that much work done beforehand, there were a lot of last-minute tweaks for camera. So we needed gear that was flexible, responded quickly and was reliable in this type of environment. That’s why we spec grandMA products on our jobs.”

Two separate control systems were configured plus the system in the previz studio. Butts used five full-size grandMA consoles, five NSPs, two full grandMA video servers, an RFU, and an offline server at the studio. Among the lighting fixtures controlled by the grandMAs were 66 Martin Mac 600s, 42 Martin Mac 2000 washes, 38 Vari*Lite VL3000 spots, 14 Vari*Lite VL2500 spots, and eight Martin Mac 2000 Professionals.

Butts likes being able to see thumbnails in the grandMA’s smart window. “It makes programming faster and makes running media on the fly a breeze. I set up an X/Y fader for layers one and two and used it as a t-bar, loading media via the thumbnail buttons on the fly. The cross communication between the desk and the servers was a big selling point for me, especially on a show like this.”

He notes that “last year we ran the entire show from one data pipe and divided the system up using worlds. This allowed Ken Hudson, the other programmer, to pull back and key lights out of the system as needed and leave the rest to me to flash and trash. This year, we made extensive use of inhibitive submasters, speed groups and timing faders to make the on-the-fly portion of the show much easier. These features are unique and make running shows of this type so much easier.”

Butts has been using the grandMA since the console made its debut. “I like the scalability and flexibility of these products,” he says. “This desk has years of development behind it which make it rock solid. But this would really mean nothing if the technical support wasn't there. One of the big reasons I feel so confident using these products, and especially trying new things with them, is that I know I'll be supported. The MA Lighting team in Germany, and the A.C.T Lighting team in the US, provide me with an unrivaled level of technical support.”

"Both Mike Swinford and Mark Butts are real pros with a long list of great credits. For them to depend on both the grandMA and the grandMA video system, is a real honor. They really pushed the envelope and used to system to their advantage." comments A.C.T Lighting president and CEO Bob Gordon.

Monica Rose was lighting director for the show with Ken Hudson the second system programmer and Candida Boggs the gaffer.

For additional Live Design coverage on the Country Music Festivel check out Bandit Returns To Country Music Festival.