Display Ad
Hide Ad

It’s Festival Season – No Time to Snooze

by Steve LaCerra • in
  • July 2018
  • Theory and Practice
• Created: July 17, 2018

It’s that time of year again…

This is the part of the year when a lot of us are working festivals, where the comforts of calm days fade away until the fall, and you have to be ready for anything.

No, we’re not quite to the point of direct data-to-brain downloads yet, but carrying a few USB drives with backups of your show files is an absolute must.

Welcome to The Middle of Nowhere

Unlike the shows we do at arenas, theaters, casinos and clubs, festivals are often literally “in the middle of nowhere.” Once you’re on-site, you’re likely to be stuck there for the day — and even if you’re not, there’s a 50/50 chance that civilization is a couple of hours away.

Anything that you really need for your show should literally be traveling with you. If your act is playing to tracks and you carry a playback system, there should be two copies on the road — at least one of which is not traveling as checked baggage.

It wouldn’t be a horrible idea if those tracks were also stored on a cloud server. Make sure the power supply for your audio interface can handle a variety of mains voltages and — if traveling internationally — carry an assortment of IEC power cables for different locales.

Treat console show files the same way.

We’ve all got our show files on USB thumb drives, but who has your backup copy? Hide a backup drive in one of the band’s workboxes. I promise it won’t push the weight of the case out of control.

Those files should also be stored in the cloud, either using a cloud server or by simply emailing the file to yourself. Console files are small, so downloading them in a pinch won’t be a big deal.

Having said all that, it’s a good idea to advance the tech stuff so you don’t run into any surprises. Sending ahead a stage plot and input list gives the house crew a heads-up on what to expect, and bring printed copies with you for situations where your email was ignored. Part of the advance should include asking what consoles will be provided for FOH and monitors. Hopefully they’ll be digital and you can use a stored file to get your mix running quickly. Some systems engineers may ask that you send your file to them ahead of time so that they can build a show in the shop, where it’s calm, and not raining, and it’s not 106 degrees, and there aren’t 40,000 screaming teenagers making a mess in the mud. Wireless frequencies may require coordination in advance, so find out if you need to submit or request frequencies for coordination, especially if your wireless gear operates in the UHF band. The last thing you want is to pull up at a show with a rack of IEMs and hear “Oh, we needed to know about that three months ago when we were assigning RF channels.”

Don’t Make a Scene, or Maybe You Should Make a Scene

While we are on the subject of show files, I hope you’re aware of the difference between a console “scene” and a complete show file that includes I/O routing, stage box ID, clock source and other system data.

Some system engineers may be hesitant to load an “All” file at a festival, and you can’t blame them. There are way too many gremlins that could make trouble, such as incompatibility of software revs. Most consoles provide a way to “safe” certain parameters when loading a show file, but it’s possible that loading an “All” file could wipe out output assignments or cause the system to mute momentarily. The point here is that it’d be a good idea to have your show broken down into components such as a scene (snapshot) and effects library so that the systems tech has options.

It should almost go without saying that you’re carrying a pair of headphones (or IEMs) and a flashlight. If you need to play cues before or during your show, don’t assume that there will be an iPod cable at FOH; bring 10 and label them with your name and phone number. When you get back home, there will be eight of them waiting in your mailbox. Ditto for 3.5mm to ¼-inch stereo headphone adapters and batteries. Buy ‘em by the dozen, and they’ll be cheaper. Make sure that the console lamps are operating. It’s amazing how often they’re overlooked. As I get older, it has become a bit of an issue. I simply can’t read the surface of a mixing desk against the contrast of the panel LEDs and screens. You can carry one of those lamps that plugs into a USB slot as a backup (under ten bucks at Walmart).

Creature Comforts

I do a lot of “one-offs” and long weekends, where we go out on a Thursday or Friday and come home on Sunday or Monday. As a result, I’m constantly packing and unpacking a suitcase, but certain items are never removed except to go in the laundry. A raincoat is a must. It’s miserable enough when it rains at an outdoor gig; when you’re soaked to the bone, it’s worse. Ditto for waterproof boots of some sort. Sometimes we do shows where it’s 95 degrees during the day at sound check and 50 degrees at night. You need shorts and sunscreen in the day and a hoodie, light gloves and a beanie hat at show time (and I’m not even talking about the gigs we’ve done on Copper Mountain in April when the daytime temp was 30°!). Bury a few pairs of work gloves in there while you’re at it.

And — just in case the food at catering sucks — pack some protein bars. So as the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared,” and have a great summer!

Steve “Woody” La Cerra is the tour manager and front of house engineer for Blue Öyster Cult.


Lightning in a Bottle Festival photo by joffreyphoto.ca. For more info, see FOH, “Festival Focus,” July 2018 page 29.


Leave a Comment:

Check Out Some Past FOH | Front of House Magazine Issues