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Miking Up Montreal

by Bryan Reesman • in
  • August 2018
  • Festival Focus
• Created: August 14, 2018

The Team That Keeps Jazz Fest Going

Jonesing for jazz and beyond? Now in its 39th year, The Montréal Jazz Festival (Festival International de Jazz de Montréal) is a 10-day musical extravaganza that covers a wider range of music than its title implies and lures in a million visitors annually. Music resounds throughout the streets of Montréal and throughout concert halls and clubs as festivalgoers explore the Canadian city, its food, and its culture. A variety of name acts and notable indies were among the 3,000 musicians from 30 countries performing 500 concerts across seven outdoor stages and 13 indoor venues. They included Herbie Hancock and Thundercat, Jann Arden, Al Di Meola, Holly Cole, Bela Fleck and Flecktones, Ry Cooder, Lucieros, Elise LeGrow, Too Many Zooz and Marc Ribot.

Since its beginnings in 1979, Jazz Fest has hired sound and lighting company Solotech to help this evolving endeavor. Founded in 1977 by two Montréal natives — Denis Lefrançois and André Riendeau (and a couple years later, with François Ménard), Solotech’s rental division began to bloom. Still based in Montréal, Solotech has offices in Saguenay, Ottawa, Toronto, Las Vegas, Nashville and DeKalb, IL. A new office in Los Angeles is in the works and the company is expanding its European operations starting in Brussels.

“More and more, Solotech is becoming a major player around the world,” says Richard Lafortune, VP of the Québec rental division. “Americans know us. We’re touring Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift and the Stones. That’s one part of our business, and there’s the local Québec market, which we’ve been involved with since the opening of the company. It’s still a core piece of the business.”

Jessie Reyez performs on the main TD Stage. Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin.

‡‡         Coordinating with Solotech

The company’s largest client in the Québec province is the Montréal Jazz Fest, and Lafortune has been with Solotech for 30 years. Solotech supplies the team to install the equipment at the festival, and they have two representatives in charge of making connections between the festival and the shop. L’Équipe Spectra, the events company that produces Jazz Fest (and other major Montréal events) have been building their teams over the years – mixers, lighting designers, and staging.

Some 1,200 people work for Jazz Fest, with 600 of them working on the production side. L’Équipe Spectra employs 150 total. Most of the stages and venues are supplied with gear, “except for some full production shows who are coming with their own equipment,” explains Mikaël Frascadore, VP ─ event production, programming for Illuminart, for L’Équipe Spectra. “We have Yamaha consoles everywhere, and most of the stages are equipped with Meyer speakers. There are also d&b speakers. [Those vendors] are here with their staff to help welcome all the sound engineers from outside bands.”

“We have to understand these artists,” stresses Lafortune. “It’s their production. Maybe one act out of 500 shows up and the production manager doesn’t like the console. But sometimes you have to deal. It’s a question of turning around and fixing it.”

Frascadore says that L’Équipe Spectra analyzes all the riders and negotiates with the artists. They send the equipment lists to Solotech, who return with answers to the festival’s technical directors. According to Frascadore, 95 percent of the gear comes from Solotech.

The War on Drugs on the TD Stage. Photo by Benoit Rousseau

‡‡         The Main Attraction

Located at the Place des Festivals on Rue Jeanne-Mance, a wide street capable of containing thousands of fans, the TD Stage is the main stage for the headliners of the event. The audio setup this year included Yamaha
Rivage PM7s for both FOH and monitor mixes. Monitor gear included Shure PSM-1000 wireless in-ear units. Monitor speakers included 14 L-Acoustics X15 HiQs, two Meyer MS-4 side fills, and a Mackie SRM-450 used as a shout box.

The main P.A. for the TD Stage was an all-Meyer rig: (12) Leo, (8) Lyon, (12) Milo 90, (2) Milo 120, (2) CQ-2, (10) Mica, (5) Meyer MSL-4 and a pair of HD-1 near-field monitors used for FOH reference. Subs were (12) 1100 LFC and (6) PSW-6. Three UM1Ps were used for delay. Some speakers were hung off of the four permanently installed light towers on the right side of the street and in front of the stage, providing additional fill.

For the nearby outdoor Rio Tinto stage, also a big draw and visible from the adjacent Hyatt hotel balcony six stories up, the Yamaha CL-5 was the console of choice. Mains were comprised of Meyer speaker: (3) CQ-1, (8) JM-1p and (4) 700 hp. Stage monitors used (10) UM-1 and (2) MSL-3 for stage. On the flip side, the Lounge Heineken Stage, mixed using Yamaha CL-5s, sported an all-d&b audiotechnik rig.

“The Montréal Jazz Festival is the biggest jazz festival in the world,” says Lafortune. “With big festivals like Coachella, the visuals are the most important thing for the acts that are going there — lighting systems, projections, and LED screens. For a jazz musician, it’s all about sound. That’s why it’s really, really picky for this festival. I think every jazz musician wants to play the Montréal Jazz Festival because of the organization and the tightness of the way the productions are respected in terms of what they want.”

“We want festivalgoers to have a real experience here,” adds Frascadore. “The audio needs have changed a lot because the musicians, the promoters, and the core producers have high expectations about sound quality. They ask for top of the line mixing boards, top of the line P.A. — especially line arrays — and nice projection.”

A Yamaha CL5 was the console of choice on the Rio Tinto Stage. Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

‡‡         Partnering with Yamaha

This is the fifth year of a partnership between Jazz Fest and Yamaha. According to Kevin Kimmel, product manager and systems application engineer for consoles at Yamaha Commercial Audio, there were Yamaha consoles at 17 stages of the festival this summer, with the CL/QL series used at most stages. “They’ve been quite popular here in Canada for a long time, and the engineers are pretty familiar with them,” says Kimmel.

The Yamaha team love seeing the reactions to sound engineers getting excited over new console features. Yamaha appreciates the quality of the techs at Jazz Fest, and the festival appreciates Yamaha’s expertise.

Montréal Jazz Fest’s Dan Meier (second from left), with Yamaha’s Leland Green, Michel Trepanier and Kevin Kimmel. Photo by Bryan Reesman

Several stages used Yamaha’s flagship Rivage PM7 and PM10 consoles, which are still new to many engineers. “We want to get engineers and techs exposed at a deeper level so they want to request it,” says Kimmel. ”When we were introducing Rivage, we thought we should come up to introduce some guys to do that. But we predominantly ended up doing some deep training on the Dante side of the CL/QL series because they needed to really better understand that and to make them more comfortable with everything. Some of the best questions I’ve seen in these types of classes come out of Montréal.”

Dan Meier, technical director for outdoor venues at Montréal Jazz Fest, notes that “we organized some system seminars two years ago. Dante is very powerful, but there are also a lot of ways to screw it up. It was good that all of those who would be in contact with that new technology had an opportunity to learn it. It is real grassroots work that has been done, and it’s great. Again, the Québec province is very Yamaha-oriented.”

Mikaël Frascadore (left) of L’Équipe Spectra and Solotech’s Richard LaFortune. Photo by Bryan Reesman

‡‡         Finding a Balance

In recent years, beyond having the Hyatt hotel right next door to the TD and Rio Tinto stages, condominiums have sprouted up in the district called the Quartiers des Spectacles, which was specifically planned for live music both outdoors and indoors. Naturally, this has led to noise complaints. These complaints are not reserved just for Jazz Fest. Four of the outdoor stages are used just prior by French pop music festival, Les FrancoFolies de Montréal (which attracts a million people), and an event marking Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, celebrated throughout the province of Quebec. Following Jazz Fest, three of the stages are collapsed and the Rio Tinto Stage is moved into the position of the TD Stage and because it’s the main stage for the Just For Laughs comedy festival. (Montréal loves its festivals — the city hosts around 100 per year.)

“We have to install some cardioid stuff and some line arrays with very high precision in terms of coverage and decibels,” says Frascadore. “We have to be careful around here. It’s 90 to 95 dB outside.” Jazz Fest hired an acoustician to aid them. “We designed the sound installations, and Solotech are involved in the process to help us chose the right P.A.s according to our needs.”

Last year, the city of Montréal launched a project to address the issues and find a compromise between the festival (and their sound people) and the residents, to a regulation that “is applicable, but logical,” says Meier. He was also pleased that the city of Montréal hired outside experts a year ago to work with Jazz Fest, city officials, and residents “to find a way to really quantify the nuisances but also the needs of a festival. When there’s a complaint, the city talks to us, we talk to them, and you take measurements. We have a dialog.”

Herbie Hancock photo by Benoit Rousseau

‡‡         The Power of Solotech

Montréal Jazz Fest is a major undertaking that provides a great time for its guests and plenty of work for its staff. It’s a challenge that Solotech relishes. But as Lafortune admits, the more his company grows, it becomes trickier to be able to support their development in the U.S. and Europe and still handle their local responsibilities.

Bobby McFerrin photo by Benoit Rousseau

‡‡         Past, Present and Future

“Ten years ago, it wasn’t the same agenda, so it was easier for us to concentrate mostly on local stuff,” recalls Lafortune. “Our summer here is filled like crazy. It was easier for us to control our gear and make sure that everything was fine here because the demand in the States wasn’t that big. For the past three years, since we opened in Chicago, we have had to respect what we’re doing there but still handle our market here and supply what they need.”

Frasadore says he does not see anyone else bringing their skill, expertise, and organizational abilities to Jazz Fest the way that Solotech does. “There are no other companies that are able to do it, to provide top quality gear and top service at the festival,” declares Frascadore. “At the same time, we’ve known each other for years. I used to work for Solotech. Most of my soundmen and technicians worked for Solotech, so we know the gear, we know them, we know their process, and they know us. It’s been a strong partnership for years.”

And that successful relationship is sure to continue, especially for next year from June 27 to July 6, 2019, when the Montréal Jazz Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary. At its heart is a plan to expand the event beyond the downtown center and into various neighborhood “hubs” throughout the city — essentially bringing free music concerts to the people.

At a Glance:

 

Montréal Jazz Fest: An Overview

With 500 concerts taking place over 10 days at 20 venues and some 600 persons working the production side, trying to list everyone would be a Herculean task. But here’s a partial breakdown, which should give you an idea of the scale involved.

 

Supporting Crew

 

Production Team:

Production Managers: 3

Production Coordinators: 5

Technical Directors: 3

Prod Assistants: 10

Stage Managers: 22

Site Management: 5

Logistic: 18

Design (site and visuals): 4

 

Sound Crew:

FOH & Monitor Engineers: 34

System Techs: 4

Yamaha Console Support Techs: 3

RF Wireless Techs: 3

Patch Technicians: 20

Stagehands: 100

 

 

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