being older and wiser(?), I tried to observe everything.The Road Goes On Forever: by Bob Jagendorf on Flickr
It’s been a while since my last blog: “To Road or Not to Road”. I chose “to road”. Here are a few tidbits.
In the 80s (the last time I did this), I didn’t really observe much of what was going on around me. I paid little or no attention to riggers, lighting guys, even production guys. I’d roll in with the band, mic the deck, line check, sound check and do the show. I was in my 20s. The only thing that mattered was getting through it all – and the party after.
Now, three kids and one failed marriage later, with years as a house engineer under my belt, and thousands upon thousands of shows to my credit, my concerns are different. I have different responsibilities: I support my kids; I have bills to pay; I need to be healthy and able-bodied for my kids and family. This time around (and 30 years later), being older and wiser(?), I tried to observe everything.
The first thing you should know: in the 80s, I toured via bus or van/trailer. This time around, I’m doing fly-ins. There are advantages and disadvantages to doing fly-ins. The biggest advantage is that I am able to spend more time at home. I get to see my kids more. I get to actually keep my full time job – which affords a regular paycheck and health insurance. I get to accrue air miles. Being home more also lets me fill in with local shows. None of which I cared much about when I was 20.
On the downside, airports suck. Canceled flights suck. Checking luggage costs money so…travel light – not taking my rack of toys with me means I’m using what the production company provides (regardless of my tech rider). There is still a ton of driving involved. Last week, we were in Milwaukee then drove 430 mile to Okoboji, IA; then 200+ miles to Omaha, NE. Waiting on ground transportation at airports can suck, too.
Van: who can sleep? The occasional hotel room with FOUR per room was barely tolerable as was sleeping in green rooms. I learned to sleep anywhere at any time. I still can sleep anywhere at any time…
Bus: sleeping on a bus can be challenging – and risky. Depending upon driver/band/crew/traffic/animals in the road/weather.
Fly-ins: Hotels every night. THE BEST! Never had more than one room mate – usually our guitar/stage tech. And he’s a great guy. Often got my own room. This also enabled me to bring my kids on a few shows! (try that in a van or bus) Disadvantage: leaving my deodorant in the last room (sorry Dwight)…different room every night…forgetting what room you’re in…Oh, sleeping on the plane can be a pain in the neck.
Digital Consoles. Does anything else really need to be said? This is the SINGLE biggest difference from touring in the 80s. OK, some might say line arrays – good point. But, we interface with the system via the console. And, digital consoles are the things we touch these days. In the past three months, I’ve used Digico, Avid, Yamaha, Soundcraft digital consoles. I’ve also used Allen & Heath, Yamaha, Midas analog consoles. I LOVE the sound of the Midas (who doesn’t) BUT, digital is the way to go! Even when you have all the outboard gear you want, having gates/comps on every channel gives you total control. The advantage of storing your scene in a festival set up is worth the price of admission. Then again, in the 80s, I was never with a big enough act to warrant our own console at FOH. My least favorite digital console? I’ll leave that for another day.
Line arrays and coverage. When deployed properly, this shit is for REAL! It is distressing to see how many times a system is not properly deployed. Or cabs left unplugged because someone “can’t find the jumpers.” I’ve now worked on Nexo, L’acoustics, EV, JBL Vertec, Meyer line arrays. And a few point & shoots: Nexo Alpha, Turbosound, Martin. All in the past few months. They are ALL effective – when deployed properly. Getting a system tech/production company to see that their system is not set up properly…well, that’s a challenge. Good luck getting them to make changes after it’s been deployed!
Back in the 80s, it seemed every system tech knew everything about his/her system. These days, not so much. My favorite question to ask has quickly become, “Where are your subs crossed?” (More often than not, subs are on an aux – so, this question becomes pretty important to me). The answers were always surprising. Ranging from “I don’t know,” to “The processor does all that,” I rarely got an accurate answer. It was also common for techs to NOT know how to assign VCAs. Remember, I’ve been working as a house engineer at the same venue since 1999 and have not seen every digital console out there. (I use an M7 and LS9 at my venue). I even ran in to TWO techs on two different PM5Ds who didn’t know how to switch the aux sends between pre and post fader! I had to show them both! There were some techs who DID have all of the answers, and they are greatly appreciated! I also had one tech who asked me if I knew how to use the console and when I said I did, promptly disappeared for the rest of the day!
Cell Phones and the World Wide Web
In the 80s, we would have to tell the driver to find a pay phone. There were no cell phones or internet. I was surprised at how often an email or phone call would go unanswered. Especially since my day job requires prompt responses to/from my clients. Shame on all of you production people who never returned my emails or calls! Many thanks to those who did – you have a leg up on everyone else.
In the 80s, we had safety harnesses. Did anyone use them? I don’t know because I didn’t pay attention. I can’t remember a single show (in the 80s) being canceled due to weather. They were postponed, but never canceled – at least in my fading memory.
My first show on the road this year was canceled due to weather. It was an amphitheater. Winds were 55mph and everyone scrambled to drop the lighting and PA. I was appalled to see a rigger climbing the truss without a harness! After all of the stage collapses and deaths/injuries in recent years, you would think he’d know better! I made a note to talk with him but never saw him again – maybe the winds blew him away. A safety harness could have prevented that.
We played a street festival in Ohio where the stage lid was crank strapped to four points.
DSL: A big tree
DSR: A parking meter
USL: A street sign
DSR: A small tree
The weather was sunny with very little wind. The cranks were loose and the canopy would sway in the light breeze. We were late. We were very late. When I noticed, I mentioned it to the production/staging manager. He replied that we should get through sound check. I told him there might not be a show if the winds kicked up and the top came down. He sent for some real ballast and before we sound checked, all was good. Yeah, I was THAT asshole!
Throughout the entire summer, I never saw a rigger climbing with a safety. FINALLY on a show in IA, I saw a rigger with not one safety, but two! I congratulated him and the crew. They were amazed that I’ve seen others at other venues climbing without safeties.
The economy caught up. Management dictated that the band can no longer fly me in. They will have to use regional engineers and system techs. As always, the bottom line is king. The band and rest of the crew are upset. All things happen for a reason and, the timing is good as I need to spend even more time with my family – especially my mom (she’s 82 years young). I will be back on tour again as I proved to myself and (more importantly) others in the field that I can still hang with the kids!