2016 Hometown Hero Finalists

by Kevin M. Mitchell
in Features
2016 Hometown Hero Finalists
2016 Hometown Hero Finalists

Here’s a look at the regional finalists in the 2016 Hometown Hero Sound Company of the Year award.

There are many ways to judge the vitality of our industry — ticket sales, manufacturer’s bottom line, new hires. As we compiled the voting for this year’s Hometown Hero finalists, we noticed that there are so many new companies being honored. Not that these are “new” companies, per se —most have been around for a quite a while (one since 1976). But this year, only two have been in the winner’s circle before. What do these winners get? A nice certificate suitable for wall-hanging; a chance to come to the Parnelli Awards show on Oct. 22 and win Regional Company of the Year; but perhaps most important of all, bragging rights. Let’s meet the regional winners!

Rainbow Productions’ setup for The High Road Summer Tour with Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa

Northeast

Rainbow Production Service — Atkinson, NH

Michael Martell, Hollis “Jib” Clark and Scott Tkachuk all worked in production and were co-workers at Rainbow for years. In 2005, the opportunity came up to purchase the company. Originally founded by Bill Blaine in 1981 as New England Audio Tech, the team changed the name and grew into a large-scale production company catering to some of the largest tours, festivals and events across the globe. “When Rainbow first started we were slow and steady, working out of a barn in New Hampshire,” Tkachuk says. “Over the years, we made a couple of bold gear purchases that helped bring us to another level, regionally. After the change of ownership, we had some great opportunities to ramp up our inventory and we became much more aggressive in growing our assets. This enabled us to do larger events, stay on top of the best gear and technology and purchase a new warehouse.” (They are currently in a 25,000 square-foot one, with 35 half- and full-time associates.)

Scott Tkachuk

A big break came in 2008 when they took on the Dane Cook and Three Days of Grace/Breaking Benjamin tours. Shortly after, they doubled their inventory and were catapulted into the touring market. They recently went out with Godsmack, Breaking Benjamin, Wiz Khalifa/Snoop Dogg and Major Lazer, among others. In addition to concerts and touring, they serve corporate and special event, consulting and installation market segments. Speaking of expanding inventory, this year they invested in a lot of Meyer (LEO, LYON, LEOPARD, 1100LFC, 900LFCs); Midas Pro (2, 6, 9 and X); DiGiCo (SD9s and SD10s); and a large assortment of Avid and Shure products.

“There are a lot of great companies out there with great gear, but we feel what makes us stand out is also our technicians’ extensive ability and knowledge, and having a great attitude,” he says. As to the Hometown Hero honor: “We are thrilled, humbled, honored and extremely proud of our entire team, especially those who are out working the gigs and acting as the face of Rainbow.”

ESI handled Tampa’s 2016 EDM Southwest Music Festival

Southeast

ESI, Tampa, FL

The beginning of ESI is familiar enough: Erick “Otto” Celeiro put together a sound system for his band, and shortly thereafter, the bank that loaned them the money for the gear was not terribly sympathetic when the band broke up. “So in 1996, myself and business partner Patrick Clarke, started working sound for local club bands” to make good on said payments. Growth was a “long slow process,” but he says that gave them a solid foundation. In their 20 years, they have been forced to move four times, always into larger facilities as more equipment was purchased (their current warehouse is 16,000 square feet). All along the way, keeping up with quality gear was important to their continuing success. “Each time we invested in a major speaker system, it was a learning experience, starting with EAW’s KF850s to NEXO’s GEO-T and most recently L-Acoustics K2, which I consider the best investment to date.” They also have a DiGiCo SD10 console.

Erick 'Otto' Celeiro

Today, ESI Audio has eight full-time employees and another 40-plus professional technicians on call. They serve clients including AEG, Live Nation, Bralco Productions, Straz Center in Tampa, Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Busch Gardens, Wild Adventures, Tampa Bay Rays and touring artists such as Cyndi Lauper, Matt Nathanson, Blind Guardian and Marillion, among others. Festivals include the 97X Next Big Thing, 98 Rockfest, Earthday, EDM Sunset Music Festival and, in West Palm Beach, SunFest. They are active in the house of worship and industrial production markets as well and maintain a 4,000 square-foot rehearsal/pre-production room available for rentals. Bench tech Dave Johnson puts his 45 years of experience to work repairing audio and lighting components.

“We pay attention to detail, make sure systems are properly deployed and invest in quality gear,” he says. “Packaging and maintaining gear and keeping your techs trained is very important at ESI.” He adds, “I believe the Hometown Hero Honor is a wonderful vehicle to expose those companies who make the effort to invest in their industry and achieve professional status.”

 Intellasound's setup for The Avett Brothers

Midwest

Intellasound — Madison, WI

Tim Woodworth

Dave Maier

Tim Woodworth was mixing FOH for a local country band that Dave Maier was drumming for when they met. Conversation ensued, and in 1997, the two founded Intellasound. “At that time, there weren’t many options for production companies in the immediate area,” says Woodworth. “In the beginning, we did mostly club and small theater shows and small festivals for local and smaller national acts.” It was challenging for them to keep up with the new gear their growth demanded in the early days. “It is a fine line to walk to not go into too much debt with the bank, but at the same time, keep up with business demand. An early break for us was the construction of a new venue in town that had us install a system that gave us great exposure.”

It’s been a big year for them, as they expanded into a 16,000 square foot warehouse, and now they have 15 full time employees. They also have an Avid S6L-32D console and “a brand new line array, to be purchased before years end,” reports Maier. “For us, what has worked is focusing on the all-in-one package. Stage, audio, lighting, backline, barricade, video. We are in a smaller market that has fewer options for the clients to source everything from, so if you can offer the complete package, it’s a huge asset for our clients.”

Intellasound serves many of the area’s 800 to 3,000 seat theaters along with festivals in the 5,000 to 15,000 range, including Taste of Madison, Brat Fest, Freakfest, La Fête de Marquette and Central Park Sessions. They also support plenty of corporate, university and political event work.

Maier cites “old fashioned hard work” and “a lot of hours on the job by an incredible staff” looking after client needs for the company’s success. “We are extremely honored to be voted as the best sound company in the Midwest for a second time! There are many thankless nights that we all experience, and this is rewarding to know that we won this award by the votes of our clients and peers.”

 Spider Ranch's setup for the 2015 TBD Festival in Sacramento, CA.

Northwest

Spider Ranch, San Francisco

“There have been hurdles to get over to grow so rapidly in an already saturated market,” Spider Ranch Productions owner Alex Moran told us last year, when he received this same honor. Impressively, Spider Ranch is back.

Alex Moran

Moran has been at the live event biz since he was a 14-year-old kid. “I’m one of the guys who has been around long enough to remember that when you wanted a sound system, you built it,” he laughs. This year has been “excellent” for the relatively young company that will celebrate its tenth anniversary next year. “We’ve picked up several new festivals,” he reports. Spider Ranch has supported the SF Pride Festival, which drew 1.3 million with 13 stages. “We were brought in for all production Stage Sound lights video camera work for the first LA Soul Festival featuring Lalah Hathaway, Melanie Fiona and Eric Benet. We’ve also recently be doing dates with Lionel Richie, Steve Miller Band, Sammy Hagar, Pretty Lights, Common, Beck and Andy Grammer.” The company was built on the smaller corporate gigs, nightclub work, video conferences; and of course, those bar mitzvahs. That said, “This year we specifically targeted large-format shows and larger A-list acts to go after and have seen those efforts pay off.”

To accommodate all this success, Spider Ranch expanded its warehouse to 24,000 square feet. “This year, we took delivery of a new fully loaded DiGiCo SD10 mixing system and increased our Outline GTO inventory as well as our mixture of Allen & Heath Qu-16 mixing consoles and other small utility mixers,” Moran says. There are also new AiRocks Pro units from AirNetix for broadcasting audio to delay towers and satellite speaker systems. “We’ve been having great success with those,” Moran continues. “On the installation side, we’ve been using a lot of Biamp product for controlling and routing audio and a recent large installation of Alcons loudspeakers, which are just amazing.” Today, they have eight full-time employees managing it all and another 10 freelancers kept so busy “they might as well be full-time.”

As for being honored a second time as best in the Northwest, “Everyone here at Spider Ranch Productions is humbled, excited and overwhelmed that we have won the hometown hero” honor for the Northwest U.S. region.

Nomad Sound’s setup at the X Games at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin.

Southwest

Nomad Sound — Austin, TX

“I’m stumped,” says Nomad Sound owner Damon Lang on receiving the news that his company nabbed more votes than any other in the U.S. Southwest portion of the Hometown Hero competition for 2016. It brings Nomad Sound one step closer to what Lang considers the ultimate honor — a Parnelli Award. “The Parnelli is an amazing accolade. Frankly, it’s the only award I could get really excited about. It feels like the Grammy of live sound, and we are hugely appreciative of the opportunity.”

Damon Lange

Damon Lang received a couple degrees from New York University (Music/Business), and when asked by some bands to go on tour, he nodded yes. “I met more acts I loved and toured for the better part of 10 years, all the while test driving people’s rigs,” he says. “I found some great partners I trusted and ultimately got off the road to focus more on running the company, as things started to take off.” Nomad was founded in 2002.

Lang “always focused on live music after an early grind handling corporate AV,” says partner/lead engineer Rion King. “Our first few gigs were street festivals and private events with bands I’d worked with for a few years. We still do the first festival that ever booked Nomad — 29 shows running — which I am immensely proud of.”

They’ve moved four times in the past eight years due to expansion. Today, they have 25 core people, half full-time, half touring. They have recently invested in NEXO STM, Yamaha CL5’s and QL series desks, NEXO 45N12 wedges and “some ridiculous mics to supplement the usual suspects.”

“Every time there was a moment where I felt as if my attention or ability was hindering the day to day operation of the company, I spent some time looking at what the block was and found someone who could do a better job at that than me,” says Lang. “Basically, I learned to get the hell out of the way and, in the process, created a lot more opportunity for those within the company to do what they do best, as well as grow the company in the process.”

Nomad is proudly a house that has audio inventory only. “It seems more and more unusual to stay singular in our focus, but we enjoy great relationships with many lighting, stage, backline and video companies, and we choose to provide only audio services,” Lang says, adding with a laugh: “We like to say, ‘we don’t do all the shows, we just do all the good ones.’”

Pierce Sound has been doing the annual Orangeville Blues and Just Fest for 12 years.

Canada

Pierce Sound — London, Ontario

“It is unbelievable that a small shop in Southwest Ontario managed to get so many votes surpassing other shops in Canada, many of whom I have had great respect for so many years,” declares Ray Pierce. Pierce was a guitarist playing in bands in the 1970s when he got tired of all that drama. In 1976, he hung out his shingle, and his first sound system was comprised of a Peavey 1200 mixer, Shure SR106 crossovers, BGW amps and four Electro Voice Sentry 4 cabinets. A local club called, and his first gigs were mixing for the likes of Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. “My humble P.A. was used by many large name artists, and we trained a lot of great techs that are still at it today,” Pierce says. “I was lucky in the early years to work with many great artists. Local promoters would call for short tours with Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Glen Campbell and many special events around Ontario and the East Coast.”

Ray Pierce

Pierce met his wife Beverly in 1979 on the road, and she was a partner until she passed from cancer in 2011. “With her we toured with Levon Helm and The Cate Brothers, B.B. King, Air Supply and worked countless shows, festivals and special events, corporates.” They raised their kids on that road, and now their son Jason is a pro drummer playing for Paramore, Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen, among others.

Pierce keeps it simple with a 3,500 square foot warehouse and a list of a dozen professionals to call on, which lets him put the right specialist with the right gig. He says there have been no major investments this year, as it’s been a year “about paying the bills.” Gear you find here include DiGiCo, Yamaha and Soundcraft desks; Ramtech and Whirlwind snakes; Lab.gruppen and Crown power amps; and Meyer cabinets. With it he takes good care of a variety of steady corporate clients, local festivals (Shamrock Fest, Block Party) and special events.

“After all these years, I have many clients that I call friends who I work with year after year. I always try to treat everyone as a friend, especially after Bev passed. She used to say I was too focused. That’s a hard way to learn a life lesson.”

All six Hometown Hero finalists appear on the 2016 Parnelli Awards ballot (on page 47, and also at www.parnelliawards.com/vote).

Voting continues through the month of September. The top vote-getters will be honored at the Oct. 22 ceremony at the Rio in Las Vegas. For more information (and reservations) go to www.parnelliawards.com.

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