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Rockin’ on the River

FOH Staff • Installations • November 13, 2008

The 3,300-seat concert hall was a challenging install, not because it’s on a riverboat but its location above the casino.

The Horseshoe Casino is more than just a riverboat with a $70-million theater install, bringing top echelon acts to The Venue.

The Horseshoe Casino has been rocking for years, since it’s been one of the most popular resort and casino destinations in the Chicago area. Yet, it’s only since The Venue opened earlier this year that the Horseshoe has been rocking, rolling, shaking and shimmying.

The Venue is a 3,300-seat hall that can host music concerts, sporting events, corporate happenings and special events. Montreal-based Scéno Plus managed the $70-million project. Other partners included Las Vegas-based architecture firm Friedmutter Group, acoustic firm Legault et Davidson from St. Lambert, Canada, and Montreal-based Lightemotion who handled architectural lighting.

The Venue can be used for everything from corporate and sporting events to concerts

It was once known as “riverboat gambling” — as long as it was floating, gambling was legal. But the behemoth properties of today bear little resemblance to any boat you have ever seen. The Horseshoe Casino, a floating vessel that is the size of six football fields and is docked on the shores of Lake Michigan, was recently refurbished and expanded (including The Venue, which is on the third tier of the vessel) to the tune of $500 million.

Casino owner, Harrah’s Entertainment, let it be known early on that The Venue was going to be Horseshoe’s anchor attraction.
“They wanted to attract high-end artists to play here, which would bring people down to the casino and the resort,” explains Normand-Pierre Bilodeau, Scéno Plus’ director of technology and specialized equipment. “So, we didn’t get an unlimited budget, but the mandate was clear to make sure the venue could do a lot of things.”

Normand-Pierre Bilodeau

“This Venue Does Everything”
A quick look at the events booked into The Venue proves that point. On the musical side of things, acts include opening night star Bette Midler, Smashing Pumpkins, Aretha Franklin and Tesla. Comedians Howie Mandel, Bill Cosby and Jeff Foxworthy are also appearing, and special events like ShoXC Elite Challenger Series, World Series of Poker and Arabian Nights are also booked in.

The first challenge that the team encountered was the venue’s location. Being on the water, Bilodeau says, was not that much of an issue. “It feels like you’re in a normal house, it’s just that when you look outside you see water,” he explains.

Opening night star Bette Midler performing at The Venue.

The third floor location, though, created some angst. “Ninety percent of the theaters we build are sitting on a concrete base,” Bilodeau says. “In this case, it’s on the third floor and there’s a casino underneath.” That meant that sound and vibrations had to be contained within the venue and could not leak below.

That challenge was answered with a combination of construction and rigging innovations, including the use of light concrete technology, stronger structural steel that can hold double or triple the capacity of previously available steel and a rig that was supported by the venue’s roof.

Bette Midler in concert

Volume Control
Containing the volume within The Venue itself was accomplished with a special Scéno Plus acoustic treatment recipe. “In most of the theaters we do, we will have one end that is live and another that is dead,” Bilodeau explains. “We work a lot on the noises of the balcony, to be sure there is no slap back coming back to the stage.”

The open ceiling at The Venue — done because the roof needed to support the weight of the grid — made Bilodeau change up the recipe a bit. “We couldn’t close the ceiling, so all the steel is visible and it reflects,” he explains. “So, we covered everything with acoustic liner to help with the high frequencies.”

A rendering of a concert at The Venue

To dampen the mid-frequency energy that was coming off the stage and the hung subs, Bilodeau called for boxes of foam (six to eight every 10 feet) to be hung from the ceiling. “That dissipates the energy from the ceiling and now the sound is really tight and it travels in a longitudinal manner instead of reflecting from the ceiling.”

In addition, Bilodeau felt it was important to aggressively control the stage with the use of close microphones as well as more acoustic liner. “It dramatically enhances our capacity to bring down the stage sound effect to a level where even your source at the beginning sounds so much better and it’s more intelligible in the house,” he reports. “I would say around 60 percent of the stage is covered with acoustic liner and/or panels.”

Of course, this kind of acoustic attention does not come cheap. “We spent around $3 million in acoustical panels and surfaces all over the theater,” he states. “At first, they asked why we put all of that in and if we really needed it. Well, after the first show they all came up and said, ‘Okay, we see what you mean.’”

Sixty percent of the stage is covered with acoustic liner and/or panels to help with the high frequencies.

Anchors Array
After the acoustic treatments were squared away, Bilodeau turned his attention to the audio gear. Choices were made based on two criteria — can it be flexible enough to be used in a variety of applications and is it familiar enough to tour managers and FOH engineers that it would raise any questions. Bilodeau’s first design featured an L-ACOUSTICS array, but he ultimately opted for a Meyer Sound MICA array with 700-HP UltraHigh-Power subwoofers and MSL-4s to cover the wings. The array includes six MICA boxes per left, center and right hang with two hangs of six 700-HPs between the left-center and right-center.

Bilodeau called for a dozen CLAIR 12 AM monitors and a pair of Yamaha PM5D consoles (for FOH and monitor) because of their road popularity. “Most of the touring bands are using PM5Ds or bigger analog boards that they would bring in anyway,” he explains. “So, we went with the 5D because 75 percent of the shows can use it. If they are going to bring their huge board in anyway then we have a big space with everything they need to plug it in.”

Months after Midler’s opening night performance, Bilodeau is back in Montreal with a bit of perspective. He points out that while this was not the biggest project he has ever worked on, it was one of the most versatile because Harrah’s wanted to be able to book anything into the room. “I don’t think we’re going to be doing another one on a boat,” he admits with a laugh. “I think it would be better to change the laws in the States to have casinos on the land. It would be cheaper, that’s for sure.”  

Gear List
FOH Console: Yamaha 5DRH-V2
Monitor Console: Yamaha 5DRH-V2,
12 Mixes

House Mains (R & L) Flown (each side): 9 Meyer Mica, 4 Meyer HP-700, 1 Meyer MSL 4
Center Cluster: 3 Meyer MS14,
3 Meyer DF-4
Subwoofers: 4 Meyer HP-700
Front Fills: 4 Meyer UPA-1P
Front Lip: 6 Meyer UPM-1P
Equalizer & Effects – FOH Position: 1 Meyer Galileo
Monitor Amplifiers: 12 Mixes I-TECH 4000
Monitor Speakers: 12 Clair 12am, 4 R3, 4 ML 18
Mics: 2 Shure Beta 52, 4 Shure KSM 44, 2 Beyer M88, 6 Shure UHF 58 Wireless Handhelds, 10 Shure Beta 58, 10 Shure Beta 57, 10 Shure SM-47-CM, 6 Shure SM-58-CN, 6 Shure SM-81-LC, 12 Shuew SM-98A, 2 Shure SM-91, 12 KT DI Box, 10 Sennheiser H220 Hearing Impaired Headsets.