2017 Hometown Hero Finalists

by Kevin M. Mitchell
in Features
Hometown Heroes
Hometown Heroes

Audio Achievers Voted Best in Their Region by FOH Readers

Readers across the continent weighed in on which sound company deserved the certificate, bragging rights and the chance to take home the “Parnelli Hometown Hero Award of the Year” at the Parnelli Awards gala in January. There are some fresh faces along with several who are returning to the winner’s circle, but they all offer up a few things in common: a dedication to customer service, a commitment to constantly investing in their inventory and an unflappable commitment to getting the job done. Meet the people running the companies named as the best in their region by readers of FRONT of HOUSE.

Northeast: Scorpio Sound, Bridgewater, MA

Levitate Music and Arts Festival, Mansfield, MA

Scorpio Sound owner Gary King had been mixing bands since 1973 and took Scorpio full time 30 years ago. “We worked with James Cotton, John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band and others in the early days,” says King. “In 1980, we installed and ran a system at Uncle Sam’s in Nantasket Beach, MA. It was a huge room, formerly The Surf in the 1960s. It was a rock room, and we put in a five-way stereo P.A. with an onstage monitor mix with bi-amped wedges and three-way sidefills, which was quite decent for a regional company at the time. We do some touring, most recently with The Pretenders, the Dropkick Murphys, The Boston Pops Orchestra and Meat Loaf.”

Today, Scorpio does a good mix of corporate, comedy, Hip Hop and rock at a wide variety of venues, which, of course includes “many of the huge number of colleges and universities in New England,” King says. “We have a rental install at a mostly heavy-metal club called the Palladium in Worcester, MA, which is housed in a former theater.”

Scorpio Sound also serves as the in-house audio provider for Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, formerly BankBoston Pavilion, on the waterfront in south Boston. “We enjoy a good reputation in our region, and we have been around long enough and done enough touring and lots of work with high level artists and their production people, so we are a known commodity.”

Gary King of Scorpio Sound Systems

This year, he says, Scorpio Sound has served the usual wide variety of one-offs and festivals for their loyal promoters, venues, universities and artist. “There are always some special events,” King says. “Last month, we did a multi-day event for Forbes’ 30 Under 30, outdoors on Boston City Plaza. We recently did a free show put on by our longtime client, the Boston Pops Orchestra, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra outdoors at Franklin Park in Boston on a beautiful Sunday afternoon” in early October.

Otherwise, the big news for Scorpio Sound is their move. They moved to a new facility after they were forced out after their previous home of 28 years after ice and snow caused the roof to collapse on them. Even that hasn’t slowed them down, and they keep growing. “We have been very happy with adding more DiGiCo and d&b audiotechnik gear,” he says adding: “We appreciate being recognized again for providing quality services, and we appreciate our loyal client who recognize our efforts to ‘do it right.’”

 

Southeast: Special Event Services, Winston-Salem, NC

Darius Rucker at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC, home of the Gamecocks.

Special Event Services (SES) began as Southern Lites in the garage of Jim Brammer in 1986. He and his wife Lynn (formerly of Bandit Lites) partnered with Jeff Cranfill in those early days and quickly entered the production business. “By 1989, we were firmly entrenched in the Southeastern corporate theater market and doing several festivals,” Brammer says. (In 1992, they changed the name to Special Event Services.) “We were growing at a modest pace, but then our big break came in 1994, when Hootie & the Blowfish became a client and we added another partner, Jason Farah.”

When Hootie blew up on the charts, the band took Southern Lites with them. Lynn would start their trucking company, Special Event Transportation (SET), which today operates more than 50 trucks. Today they also have more than 50 employees.

Jim Brammer

“This has been a great year for us,” Brammer says. “We have been hard at work on the road serving clients like (former Hootie frontman and current country artist) Darius Rucker, Glass Animals, Sturgill Simpson, Dustin Lynch, Justin Moore, Joe Bonamassa and Luke Combs, to name a few. The ongoing Glass Animals tour is especially rewarding, as we’ve been with them from the beginning,” Brammer adds, noting that the band has kept SES on as they have moved from small clubs to sold-out shows at large venues like Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado and Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

SES also continues supporting a long list of religious leaders seeking Christian fellowship and inspiration, including Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen and Franklin Graham, along with events organized by Charlotte, NC-based Elevation Church. And the sound company also recently supported several one-offs and local festivals, including the Carolina Country Music Fest in Myrtle Beach, SC (June 7-10), Christians United for Israel (C.U.F.I.) summit in Washington, DC, the Hillsong Colour Conference and Camp Lejeune BaseFEST in Jacksonville, NC.

“The C.U.F.I. event, put on by John Hagee Ministries, was an incredible event for us,” Brammer says. “Between the three main event venues and then all of the breakout rooms, we ended up with around 20 trucks of gear there, and it all came together wonderfully.”

SES has been busily ramping up their lighting offerings, so there has been no major investment in new audio gear, but their warehouse of L-Acoustics, Martin Audio and digital mixing consoles from DiGiCo, Avid, Midas and Yamaha is working just fine for them and their clients, Brammer reports. “Staffing-wise we have been blessed to bring on Adam Stipe as our director of operations. Adam has settled into his role with us nicely after spending the past 10-plus years at Clair in their operations department and has really helped SES transition our team to a younger generation of superstars.”

 

Midwest: Logic Systems Sound and Light, St. Louis, MO

El Monstrero performs Pink Floyd with a Logic assist.

“This year was the 30th consecutive ‘best year ever’ for Logic Systems,” says owner Chip Self. “The company has continued to grow by focusing intently on providing high quality, integrity based solutions for our clients.” It’s been a busy year as, in addition to their usual clients, they’ve taken on the audio and lighting installation of Scottrade Center, home of the NHL Blues and a lot of big concerts. They also handle audio for Fabulous Fox Theatre, a premiere venue for touring Broadway shows. They were there for the Rock on the Range festival in Columbus, Ohio and also took on the Raise the Macallan traveling show. While they continue to expand into lighting, video and even building and selling cases, it’s a company that first and foremost sees itself as an audio company.

The Logic Systems crew

Considering Self’s mantra is “You buy gear for the gigs you want, not the gigs you have,” the big news is that they recently joined the L-Acoustics family. NEXO has served them well, and they still use that gear, but it was time for something new. Self laughs about how the L-Acoustics sales people were “very patient — kind of just standing off to the side for about 10 years, waving their hand at me every once in a while, reminding me that they were there. The last two years marked a change in our main speaker brand, as we embraced our new relationship with them,” he says. “We’ve since added multiple complete systems of K2, Kara and ARCS to our inventory. For the fall of 2017, we’re anxiously awaiting the new Shure Axient Digital wireless systems. Over roughly the same period of time, we’ve also expanded our warehouse, increasing our overall footprint by over 40,000 square feet,” making it more than 100,000 square feet in all.

Logic Systems won the Midwest Regional Hometown Heroes award one time prior to this. “It is always an intense honor to be recognized by peers and customers for the hard work and dedication we put into our passion for this business. It would not be possible without the tireless dedication of the amazing group of talented people that work at Logic Systems and the dedication and creativity they bring to the task every day. We are all exceptionally grateful for the award and for the opportunity to be a part of such a great program. We are humbled.”

 

Northwest: Carlson Audio Systems, Seattle, WA

The setup for The International - DOTA at KeyArena in Seattle.

“It has been a banner year at Carlson Audio Systems,” says owner Mark Carlson. “We have seen an expansion of our office in Seattle to include our sister city, Portland, OR. Having extended this area of coverage has enabled us to invest in additional inventory of our d&b audiotechnik products, primarily increasing our inventory of the V series speaker enclosures to nearly 100 cabinets. We have also increased our product offerings for Avid, DiGiCo, QSC, Sennheiser, Shure and Yamaha.”

Carlson is now in his 27th year of business. Their summer festivals this year included the Sasquatch Music Festival as well as Watershed Country Music Festival at the iconic Gorge Amphitheatre in George, WA. They also handed the summer concert series at the Seattle Zoo and Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Woodinville, WA and the lengthy tradition of Bumbershoot in Seattle. Their new Portland office supported the MusicfestNW as well as a growing summer concert series at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Music on Main Street and the Maryhill Winery in Goldendale, WA. “We were excited to be chosen as the sound vendor for the Upstream Music Fest + Summit in Seattle. We provided sound systems for 40 event stages over that three-day festival,” which ran May 11-13 this year.

Jonathan Myers and Mark Carlson, with Kai

Meanwhile, Carlson has recently been awarded contracts for a substantial sound system upgrade to the prestigious 5th Ave Theatre, Seattle’s Paramount Theatre and Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony. And they’ve been dabbling beyond the region as well. “This last year has found us working in some unusual places, including an extended tour of Southeast Asia for a private function on a cruise ship. This required shipping over 20,000 pounds of equipment via air freight to China for a week-long party supporting three stages of entertainment.” This year was also the fourth year they were the exclusive sound vendor for a week-long international computer gaming competition, supplying over 140 cabinets of d&b to provide 360 degrees of coverage in Seattle’s KeyArena.

“We continue our focus on training the next generation of sound professionals and establishing a path for young men and woman to enter the live event production industry,” Carlson adds. “We are working to establish a curriculum and career path for people with a passion to learn, experience and be part of an audio team. Carlson Audio Systems is blessed to have some of the best and most talented people in the industry as part of our tribe of audio professionals.”

 

Southwest: Onstage Systems, Dallas, TX

 The Buku Music & Art Project in New Orleans.

Siblings Chris and Hyacinth Belcher grew up in the business, specifically backstage, as their parents Charles and Vickie Belcher founded the company in 1978. Growing up as they did instilled them with a “the show must go on no matter what” mentality, and when Chris and Hyacinth took over in 2006, they continued the lineage of success. Onstage has expanded its market share by supporting a few key local venues with installation support to further grow the L-Acoustics brand in the Dallas-Fort Worth and North Texas areas.

“We have continued our relationship with our clients by raising their capabilities for concerts, conventions, festivals and touring,” says Hyacinth Belcher. “We have grown outside the Texas boundaries into venues that span from California to Canada and the Eastern U.S.” But they are still serving the local community’s needs too, like in June when they handed the Concerts in the Garden with the Fort Worth Symphony.

Hyacinth adds that she and Chris are particularly proud of Onstage Systems’ support to their community for festivals like Day for Night in Houston and BUKU in New Orleans. “Our fundraiser and nonprofit clients include a marathon for breast cancer awareness, which brought out local celebrity support, and our continued support for raves to include Something Wicked Festival in Houston, which posed extreme challenges in sound design, requiring three EDM stages worth of audio to be contained within strict decibel levels outside the festival grounds.”

Chris and Hyacinth Belcher

Onstage Systems has further increasing their rental inventory with additional L-Acoustics products like K2, Kara and X8’s. They were also able to expand our inventory of digital wireless by Shure to combat the ever-decreasing bandwidth our industry is losing. They have also upped the offerings to include the DiGiCo SD10/SDRack. “The flexibility and the stability of the platform as well as its sonic signature assures us this will be just the first of many.”

The company has been adding people, too. “We have also increased our personnel by acquiring a department manager all the way from a fellow L-Acoustics house in Hawaii and have added four additional local technicians in our audio department,” Hyacinth says. “Expanding this department has resulted in several certified training sessions. We were pleased to have L-Acoustics, DiGiCo and Shure, among others, to assist us in getting our technicians certified and versed in the complexities of our equipment.

“We are honored to be received recognition from our peers in the world of audio and will continue our dedication and devotion to the best in live sound,” Hyacinth concludes.

 

Canada: KiAN Concert Sound, Richmond, BC

FVDED in the Park, Holland Park, Surrey, BC.

For more than a quarter of a century, KiAN, based in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, BC, has been taking good care of the regional concert, touring artist, music festivals, special events and corporate conventions that call on them. They do a fair amount of audio installations, too, including the theater within the Richmond, BC-based River Rock Casino Resort and another Great Canadian Gaming property, the Red Robinson Show Theater in Coquitlam, B.C., adjacent to the Hard Rock Casino Vancouver.

“The past year has been a busy one for KiAN Sound with continued growth in sales integration and events, aside from servicing our regular clients which include Live Nation, AEG Live and Brandlive,” says GM Derek Mahaffey. To keep up with it all, there’s been some investing. New gear includes DiGiCo SD7 and SD5 consoles with Waves servers. Their speaker inventory got a boost, and now it includes Meyer Sound Leopard/900-LFC adding to its Meyer Sound collection, which include Leo, Legacy, Milo, Mina and Mica components, among others. They also have a L-Acoustics V-Dosc system at their disposal.

One of their high-level projects this past year was the Aegis Insurance Policyholders Conference 2017 for Lawall Communications, which featured an outdoor concert by Kelly Clarkson. “We transformed the shipbuilders square in North Vancouver into an exclusive and intimate performance setting for 700 guests,” Mahaffey says.

KiAN crew with DiGiCo consoles

“There was also FVDED in the Park for Live Nation/Blueprint Management, an outdoor EDM festival attracting over 20,000 people a day to three stages in Holland Park that featured The Chainsmokers and Wiz Khalifa. And 2017 also marked the 28th year that KiAN Sound has provided sound services for Victoria Symphony Splash held in Victoria’s inner harbor, attracting over 60,000 people. KiAN Sound could not be prouder of this long working relationship.”

KiAN Concert Sound also continues to provide audio for the Commodore Ballroom, one of Canada’s most famous nightclubs and continue to handle festivals like the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival.

This is KiAN sound’s third time winning the Hometown Hero award for Canada, as they were previously won in 2013 and 2014. “To win one time was an honor but now this is our third win we could not have done this without the support and dedication off our great staff and clients,” says KiAN Concert Sound owner Mark Reimann.