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Dead & Company 2021 Tour

Thomas S. Friedman • October 2021Production Profile • October 11, 2021

John Mayer jams with Bill Kreutzmann, Bob Weir and Oteil Burbridge on Dead & Company’s return to the live stage. ©Jay Blakesberg

The Long, Strange Trip Gets Stranger Due to Covid-19

Dead & Company’s 2021 shed and stadium tour, which kicked off Aug. 16 in Raleigh, NC, is rolling into autumn, wrapping up a run of 31 concerts with three sold-out shows at the Hollywood Bowl in L.A. on Halloween weekend.

Returning to the stage after the band’s concert plans for most of 2020 and early 2021 had to be scrubbed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the band has been performing at a mix of venues including sheds/amphitheaters, with the major league baseball stadium homes to the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs on the itinerary as well.

With the dark shadows of the Covid-19 pandemic extending into 2021, however, contingency planning has become paramount. But if the persistence of the pandemic made the decision to proceed with a full-scale touring production fraught with uncertainty and subject to enormous changes at the last minute, the band and crew opted to roll the dice rather than stay off the stage for another year.

Dead & Company band members, from left: Jeff Chimenti, John Mayer, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Oteil Burbridge and Mickey Hart. ©Jay Blakesberg

A Decades-Long Tradition

Following a decades-long tradition established by the Grateful Dead, this latest iteration of the legendary jam band is touring with audio production anchored by a Meyer Sound LEO system provided by UltraSound.

Meyer Sound’s relationship with the Grateful Dead (and subsequent spin-offs) extends back prior to the company’s founding in 1979, with company president & CEO John Meyer consulting on the legendary Wall of Sound. The band was often heard through the Meyer-designed JM-3 and JM-10 loudspeakers from McCune Audio shortly thereafter.

“We’ve obviously been working hand-in-hand with Meyer for many years,” says Derek Featherstone, who doubles as both CEO of UltraSound and FOH engineer for Dead & Company. “I came on board in 1988, but I know UltraSound started developing products with Meyer back in late 1979.

“It’s a two-way relationship, because our company has long been involved in the developmental stages, as a proving ground for what works and doesn’t work for a touring company,” Featherstone adds. “So, we have a long development history and growth with Meyer, and with the new products it keeps getting better, even easier to deploy, yet always with the fidelity we’ve come to expect from Meyer products.

“For this tour, we have prepared for a remote pandemic mixing scenario,” Featherstone continues. “When we are faced with a venue that has a compromised mix position that would put the crew within six feet of the crowd, we move the FOH mix to backstage in a dressing room,” continues Featherstone.

“Using the Meyer Galaxy AVB network, we have set up a FOH drive tuning station for the daytime in addition to running the analyzer mics back to the dressing room via AVB. We can then watch the FFT analysis of the P.A., adjust it in real time, in addition to monitoring the FOH SPL.

“In the dressing room, we can match the frequency response daily of the P.A. using Galaxy to the Amie studio monitors with Amie-Sub,” Featherstone notes. “These monitors do a great job replicating the main P.A. sonically and allow us to mix the show remotely and stay connected to the P.A. tonal characteristics.”

The band toured with matching arrays of Meyer Sound LEO for front and side hangs in sheds and stadiums. ©Jay Blakesberg

A Self-Powered Setup

For UltraSound director of operations Josh Osmond, the LEO system is an ideal match to the current tour. “It flies quickly and easily, and because it’s self-powered we don’t have amp racks cluttering the stage and taking up truck space,” he says. “Also, you know whatever you put into the system is exactly what comes out of it, without any audible harmonic distortion. It’s consistent in all environments, indoors and out, regardless of winds or humidity. It holds up really well in all scenarios, and that’s essential for touring these days.”

In the shed configuration, Dead & Company’s 2021 touring rig comprises main front hangs of 16 LEO line array loudspeakers per side, with identical arrays for the side hangs. For sub-bass, nine 1100-LFC low-frequency control elements are flown per side behind the LEO arrays, with an additional dozen elements in a 6 x 2 setup in the pit. Ten Leopard line array loudspeakers are available to be deployed singly for front fill, with system drive and optimization supplied by eight Galaxy 816 Network Platforms linked on an AVB network.

For the stadium shows, two more LEO loudspeakers are added to each of the four main arrays, one more 1100-LFC is hung on each sub-bass array, and the pit complement is expanded to 10 x 2. UltraSound adds components for the stadium delays on a per case basis with a typical system comprising three delay towers and deploying 12 Lyon line array loudspeakers per tower.

For the shows at Citi Field in New York (Aug. 20) and Hersheypark Stadium in Pennsylvania (Aug. 28), Meyer Sound rental partner DBS Audio Systems (Coatesville, PA) was tasked with the project.

“Despite all the changes from day to day, with different venues and changing weather, there’s a trust that you will hear the same thing out of the system,” says UltraSound systems tech Michal Kacunel. “With the sheds, we have to deal more with the acoustics of the structure, but even then, the response is remarkably consistent.”

The 2021 shows proceeded with contingency plans that, if needed, could move the FOH crew members backstage. ©Jay Blakesberg

Back in the Game

Kacunel speaks for the entire tour crew when he adds, “I’m excited to be doing this again. It’s been over a year and a half since the last show, so it feels great to be back bringing live music to the loyal fans.”

Formed in 2015, Dead & Company includes former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann along with John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti. The band has performed every year since except for 2020’s shows.

For the 2021 trek, Dead & Company delves deeply into the voluminous repertoire Grateful Dead originals and covers, allowing dedicated camp followers to hear a new show at each stop. For at least the first three shows, for example, the set lists were completely different except for the improvisational “Drums” and “Space” jams.

Established in 1978 by Don Pearson and Howard Danchik, UltraSound started providing audio services for the Grateful Dead that same year and quickly established a reputation for delivering high-quality audio in stadium-size venues.

Other artists and ensembles receiving audio support from UltraSound include the Dave Matthews Band, Volbeat, Bob Dylan, Primus, Metallica, Bobby Weir and Wolf Bros, and the San Francisco Symphony. The company recently moved into its new headquarters and warehouse facility in Petaluma, CA.

After wrapping up the 2021 tour with the three shows at the Hollywood Bowl (Oct. 29, 30 & 31), Dead & Company plans to head down to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula for two weekends of gigs on the Gulf of Mexico in Cancun.

Set for Jan. 7-10 (Playing in the Sand — Uno) and Jan. 13-16 (Playing in the Sand — Dos) at the Riviera Cancun, those already-sold-out warm-weather winter concerts will kick off what will hopefully be a continuation of a grand jam band tradition into a carefree (and pandemic-free) future.

Derek Featherstone, UltraSound CEO, also serves as production director and FOH mixer for the band. ©Jay Blakesberg

 

Dead & Company 2021 Tour

Aug. 16-Oct. 31, 2021

Derek Featherstone at FOH. Photo by Katie Friesema

Crew

  • Sound Companies: UltraSound, DBS Audio Systems
  • Production Manager/FOH Engineer: Derek Featherstone
  • UltraSound Director of Operations: Josh Osmond
  • UltraSound Systems Tech: Michal Kacunel

Gear

Shed Setup:

  • 16     Meyer Sound LEO per side (Mains)
  • 16     LEO per side (Side Hangs)
  • 9       Meyer Sound 1100-LFC per side (Subs)
  • 12     1100-LFC subs (ground stacked, 6×2)
  • 10     Meyer Sound Leopard (front fill)
  • 8       Galaxy 816 network platforms

Stadium Setup:

  • 18     Meyer Sound LEO per side (Mains)
  • 18     LEO per side (Side Hangs)
  • 10     Meyer Sound 1100-LFC per side (Subs)
  • 20     1100-LFC subs (ground stacked, 10×2)
  • 10     Meyer Sound Leopard (front fill)
  • 8       Galaxy 816 network platforms
  • 3       Delay towers, each w/ 12 Lyon elements

 

 

 

 

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