Festival Focus: Summerfest 2017

by Frank Hammel
in Features
Clearwing provided audio for all stages as Milwaukee's 'Big Gig' turned 50
Clearwing provided audio for all stages as Milwaukee's 'Big Gig' turned 50

Heavy rain put a damper on the opening day of Summerfest 2017, but Milwaukee’s mammoth “Big Gig,” which turned 50 this year, has shaken off bigger obstacles to success in the past. First-decade challenges included including significant losses for the festival’s second year (1969), six-figure crowds and a near-riot for Sly and the Family Stone (1970), comedian George Carlin’s arrest for profanity (1972) and an actual riot with 300 arrests during Humble Pie’s performance (1973).

But this homegrown festival has evolved organically over the decades, and the 2017 live music extravaganza ran pretty much like a well-oiled Briggs & Stratton machine. It featured more than 800 acts performing on multiple stages for 11 days over a 12-day span (June 28-July 2 and July 4-9).

The Briggs and Stratton stage was one of several large stages at the event. By itself it can accommodate more than 6,000 people.

A hallmark of the Big Gig’s success has been its ability to draw huge crowds with a wide range of performers, from internationally known headliners to local tribute bands — and with a wide range of admission prices as well. (Not everyone can afford to jet off to attend exotic festivals staged in the Bahamas.)

At the American Family Insurance Amphitheater (formerly known as the Marcus Amphitheater), concertgoers paid well over $100 per seat this year to catch top acts including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Luke Bryan, Paul Simon, Tom Petty, Dierks Bentley and the Zac Brown Band, among others. Purchasers of those special concert tickets were also granted admission to the festival grounds.

Most of Summerfest’s general admission attendees, however, paid $20 per day or less, with a dizzying array of promotions bringing the price per turnstile click all the way down to free. And once again, total attendance for 2017 was in the 800,000 to 900,000 range (831,769, to be precise; up 3.4 percent from 2016). Of that total, 115,935 attended at no charge, thanks to an array of freebie promotions (to early birds, military personnel, attendees wearing local team colors on a given day, etc., etc.)

DiGiCo consoles in their road cases at Clearwing Productions prior to being deployed at Summerfest

To celebrate the 50 year milestone, festival organizers introduced Throwback Thursdays (June 29 and July 6), with retro acts performing a bit earlier than they might have, back in the day, with the Steve Miller Band, Peter Frampton, Huey Lewis & the News, Toto, REO Speedwagon, and John Waite all performing.

And the 2017 Big Gig capped things off with the Amphitheater hosting the 2017 Outlaw Music Festival Tour featuring Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan, both of whom were drawing big crowds back before Summerfest was born.

Clearwing Productions, with offices in Milwaukee, WI and Phoenix, AZ, once again served as the main production partner for this year’s Summerfest. Along with its various capabilities as a provider of lighting, video and backline services, Clearwing provided audio gear for all the main Summerfest stages this year.

And 2017 was undoubtedly a busy year for the company. Along with the increasing complexity of big touring productions that need to fit, somehow, on a festival stage, Clearwing was busily prepping for its big announcement, just a few days after Summerfest 2017 came to a close, of its acquisition of Colorado-based DSI Event Group, which will form the basis of the company’s newest base of operations in Denver.

This photo of the Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard stage during the day shows the JBL hangs in use.

‡‡         The Stages, Gear and Crew

Here’s a stage-by-stage rundown of Clearwing’s support for Summerfest 2017.

American Family Insurance Amphitheater: Although some of the headliners were touring with their own gear, Clearwing provided audio support for other Amphitheater acts, including P!nk, The Chainsmokers, Future/Big Sean/Migos and all the Outlaw Festival performers — Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Margo Price and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, among others, with DiGiCo SD10 and Avid Venue Profile consoles available at both FOH and monitor positions.

Within the Amphitheater, key crew members included Jamie Earle, chief audio engineer; Bill Price, system tech; Sean Brady, monitor/fly tech; Allen Gerhardt, deck; Harrison Ruhl, lawn delay tech. The main L-Acoustics setup included six K1 over 10 K2 per side, eight KS28 per side (flown), and six K1 over six Kara per side (off hangs). In addition, 24 Kara were deployed for lawn delays, 12 Kara for front-fill, eight ARCS II for aux fill, 12 KS28 for ground subs, four SB18 for drum subs and 16 d&b audiotechnik M2 wedges were in use.

Briggs and Stratton stage

Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard Stage: For the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard stage, where bands play before crowds ranging between 6,000 and 8,000 in size, a DiGiCo-controlled JBL system reinforced the audio for a lineup that included Dennis DeYoung, Slightly Stoopid, Needtobreathe, Andy Grammer, Collective Soul, Joss Stone, Peter Wolf and MisterWives, among others.

The Briggs & Stratton stage audio crew included IATSE Local 18 engineers Jason Pruzin (FOH) and Megan Henninger (MON), with JBL’s Brian Pickowitz, Raul Gonzalez and Nick Mourn working with system tech Robby Hegge.

The main setup included nine JBL VTX A12 per side, supplemented by four VTX V20 for front fill, 12 VTX G28 as ground subs and 12 VTX M22 speakers for monitors. For further reinforcement, the system included L-Acoustics speakers – two ARCS Wide (flown sidefills, per side), two SB18 as sidefill subs (per side), one SB18 (drum sub) and four L-Acoustics 12XT units for VIP delays.

For control, the Briggs & Stratton stage offered guest engineers DiGiCo SD10 (FOH) and DiGiCo SD12 (MON) consoles.

The DiGiCo SD12 at monitors for the Briggs and Stratton stage was joined by a DiGiCo SD10 at FOH.

Johnson Controls World Sound Stage: This stage featured indie acts (Car Seat Headrest, San Fermin, Whitney) and local performers along with a variety of locally-based Americana, R&B, synthpop acts. Crew members looking after the audio system included system tech Jon DaSilva and IATSE Local 18 members Caleb Lenser (FOH) and Craig Bromser (MON). The console setup included DiGiCo SD9 desks at both FOH and monitor positions.

Although this stage also hosted a silent disco event where the P.A. wasn’t a factor, the other acts were heard via L-Acoustics speakers, including four VDOSC over three dVDOSC per side, two ARCS Wide speakers for front fill, six SB28 ground subs and one SB18 drum sub. Some JBL components were used here as well, including 12 VTX M22 monitor speakers and two CSX F35 units plus one VTX G28 speakers per side for sidefills.

The Miller Lite stage, like the event's entrance, was spruced up for the 50th annual event.

Miller Lite Oasis Stage: This stage got a facelift for 2017 with a new façade and video screen upgrades plus a new bar area called the Miller Lite Brew House. Headliners included many acts who weren’t around when Summerfest kicked off 50 years ago, including EDM acts like Flume and Steve Aoki; country artist Brett Eldredge; sister act Tegan & Sara; and hometown alt rock heroes Vinyl Theatre.

 Miller Lite Oasis Stage consoles included DiGiCo SD10 and SD12 desks at FOH and monitor position.

Along with DiGiCo SD10 (FOH) and SD12 (MON) consoles, the setup included an L-Acoustics system: six K1 over six K2 per side (mains), supplemented by more L-Acoustics boxes. These included 12 KS28 (ground subs), nine Kara (front fill), two ARCS Wide and SB18’s (sidefills, per side), 12 115 HiQ monitor speakers and one DV-Sub (drum sub). The delay setup included two pairs of 12XT and 5XT speakers, with four X8s and four Yamaha C115VA units also used for delays.

One of the L-Acoustics hangs at the Miller Lite stage.

Along with system tech Jon DaSilva, IATSE Local 18 members Brian Miller (FOH engineer) and Patrick Troyan (MON engineer) were on hand.

 DiGiCo SD5 at the BMO Harris Pavilion

BMO Harris Pavilion: A long roster of classic rockers packed the lineup, including the Moody Blues, Foghat, Toto, Steve Miller Band, REO Speedwagon, Huey Lewis and the News, plus some more recent standouts including Third Eye Blind, The Shins, Phillip Phillips, The Band Perry, Mondo Cozmo and local talent Naima Adedapo. Key crew members included IATSE Local 18 members Jeff Schauer (FOH) and Daniel Ackerman (MON), who used DiGiCo SD5 (at FOH) and SD12 desks (MON), respectively.

The SD5 drove an L-Acoustics system with six K1 elements over four K2 per side.

System tech Harrison Ruhl looked after an L-Acoustics setup with six K1 over four K2 per side, plus four K2 offhang per side as mains. L-Acoustics boxes rounding out the P.A. included 12 SB28 ground subs, eight X8’s (front fills), and a pair of ARCS Wide and SB18s per side for sidefills, plus 12 115 HiQ’s for monitors duty, a DV-Sub (drum sub) and 10 One Systems 212CIM’s as delays.

The JBL VTX A12's at the Uline Warehouse stage.

Uline Warehouse Stage: For 2017, this stage featured an eclectic mix of headliners, from 1990’s faves (Spin Doctors, Guster, Blues Traveler) to local legends (Paul Cebar), more recent standouts (Awolnation, Trombone Shorty), classic Brit invaders (John Waite, Peter Frampton), punk rock acts (Death From Above 1979) and a country duo (Dan + Shay). IATSE Local 18 engineers working this stage included Joe Adam at FOH and Tristan Wallace at monitors.

To cover this stage, which can pull in 5,000 to 6,000 for some shows, Clearwing deployed a JBL setup overseen by system tech Taylor Mundstock. The mains included nine JBL VTX A12 per side, supplemented by eight VTX V20’s (front fill), 12 VTX S28’s (ground subs) and 12 VTX M22 (monitors). L-Acoustics boxes handled sidefill (a pair of ARCS Wide and SB18 subs per side) and drum sub duties (one SB18).

Clearwing provided 10 JBL VTX per side for the Harley Davidson Roadhouse stage.

Harley Davidson Roadhouse Stage:
Located near the center of the festival grounds, this is another big stage featuring a mix of music including EDM, hip-hop, alternative and rock. Featured acts included Brian Setzer, Shinedown, Ziggy Marley, Miike Snow, Girl Talk, A Day to Remember, Atmosphere, Chevelle, Domenic Marte and Gilberto Santa Rosa.

A DiGiCo SD10 desk in action at Summerfest’s Harley Davidson Roadhouse.

IATSE Local 18 members Brian Koerner and Niel Wargolet mixed on DiGiCo desks, respectively, at FOH (SD5) and monitors (SD12), with system tech Robby Hegge overseeing a JBL setup. The mains included 10 VTX per side, supplemented by four VTX V20s (front fill), 20 VTX G28’s (ground subs) and 12 VTX M22s for monitors. L-Acoustics ARCS Wide and SB18’s were deployed for sidefills (two each per side), with an SB18 for drum sub and a pair of 12XT’s for delays. Rounding out the delay setup were six 106CIM’s from OneSystems and three QSC 208’s.

Harley Davidson Roadhouse stage FOH with DiGiCo consoles in use

U.S. Cellular Connection Stage: Featuring a mix of country, alternative and pop, the lineup for 2017 at this stage included Frankie Ballard, Bebe Rexha and Hanson. System tech Taylor Mundstock oversaw the L-Acoustics K2 system for this stage (six per side for mains), complemented by two ARCS Wide (front fills), six SB28’s (ground subs) and one SB18 (drum subs). JBL boxes were also deployed as monitor speakers (VTX M22’s) and sidefill duties (two CSX F35’s and one VTX G28 per side).  IATSE Local 18 members Jeff Hamilton (FOH) and Steve Olson (MON) worked the mix with DiGiCo SD12 desks.

Clearwing has been supporting the event for 30 of its 50 years.

Other Stages/Performance Areas: Along with Summerfest’s main stages, a variety of smaller performance areas for local bands kept the music flowing during the multi-day event. For JoJo’s Martini Lounge, for example, Clearwing provided four JBL VTX V20’s per side as mains, supplemented by three VTX S25 subs per side. Harrison Ruhl served as system tech for this area, located near the American Family Insurance Amphitheater, which serves as a great showcase for local talent. IASTE Local 18 member Cole Schulist was the FOH mixer for JoJo’s, using a DiGiCo S21 console to drive the main speakers. The monitor setup included eight QSC K12’s, with four Martin Audio W3’s as delays and two Technomad NOHO-C patio delays in use.

Other areas requiring a sound reinforcement assist at Summerfest 2017 included Kohl’s Captivation Station, the Sports Demonstration area and the Children’s Stage. Clearwing provided a DiGiCo S21 unit for the Captivation Station and Yamaha MGP12X controllers for the Sports and Children’s areas. Chris Adler looked after the systems deployed for all three areas. The Kohl’s station made use of four QSC K12 and KW181 units as mains, supplemented by six K12 wedges. For the Children’s Stage, the P.A. setup consisted of four Martin Audio WT15 speakers and four Peavey 112PS units for monitors. The Sports area P.A. was handled by six OneSystems 212CIM units.