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A Day in the Life of “An Evening with Fleetwood Mac, Part 1”

David Morgan • November 2019Tour Spotlight • November 13, 2019

FLEETWOOD MAC © Steve Jennings

“An Evening with Fleetwood Mac” is an ambitious outing that began in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s BOK Center on Oct. 3, 2018, and wraps up Nov. 16, 2019 at the T-Mobile Center in Las Vegas. The tour encompassed four legs, with 88 shows in nine countries. This article, by longtime FRONT of HOUSE contributor (and Fleetwood Mac FOH engineer) David Morgan, offers insights into a “typical” day during that 13-month odyssey.—ed.

When FRONT of HOUSE magazine first offered me an opportunity to contribute an article written from a crewmember’s perspective, I balked. I felt reticent about maintaining my professional objectivity while describing our work routine — our daily challenges, our successes and our failures. Most often these “on the road with” articles are written by outside journalists, many of whom are old friends of mine, not penned by one of the crew guys being spotlighted in the piece. FRONT of HOUSE thought the observations and insights shared from my position within the tour bubble could be both informative and entertaining. In hope of achieving those goals, this narrative will describe some of the activities and interactions that occur before sound check during a typical workday on tour with Fleetwood Mac.

The full sound crew on the Fleetwood Mac arena tour is comprised of eight members. Our crew chief and my partner at FOH is Clair Global system engineer Thomas Morris. There are three mixers among the touring staff: Myles Hale, monitor engineer; Blake Suib, monitor engineer; and myself (FOH engineer). Chris King from Clair is the monitor tech/RF tech with Myles Hale. Kenny Hottenstein is Clair’s monitor tech/stage tech with Blake Suib. In the U.S. and Canada, our Clair Global P.A. techs were Chris Fulton and Amy Bammarito. For tour dates in Europe, the P.A. techs from Audio Rent were Nicola Jannuzzo and Michael Salathe. When the tour was in Australia and New Zealand, JPJ Audio provided P.A. techs Alex McCormack and Marlon Dunn.

FOH engineer David Morgan (left) and P.A. tech Chris Fulton

‡‡         The “Normal” Workday

Our “normal” workday is both physically compartmentalized and individually departmentalized until we all come together for the daily 3 p.m. line check. Audio crew chief Thomas Morris always goes in on the early call. He meets with production manager Bobby Herr, stage manager Larry Yager and tour riggers, Matt Rynes and Chuck Ream, to determine the best game plan for that particular venue. Thomas will compare his previously prepared Focus P.A. prediction file for this venue to the physical reality he observes onsite. Clair Global has compiled a huge library of physical data referencing venues around the world. Their system engineers utilize this data with a high degree of confidence when creating a Focus prediction file in advance of the load-in.

Once an optimal rigging scheme for the production as a whole has been determined, any changes to the plan incorporated, and the resulting points have been marked on the floor, the final location of the stage can be set by our stage manager. After the stage placement has been finalized, the location of the FOH mix position can be decided. The tour has been selling extremely well, and the demand for floor seats is always very strong. The FOH position is most often located 120 to 130 feet from the stage. The FOH configuration is three-tiered: Audio control is nearest the stage and set up on the arena floor. Directly behind audio, lighting control is set up on a 16x8x2-foot (WxDxH) riser. Farthest from the stage, and directly behind the lighting riser, are two 4-by-8-by-4-foot risers for FOH video cameras.

Stage manager Larry Yager and the carpentry crew next decide the most sensible location on the arena floor for assembling the large rolling stage that the Fleetwood Mac tour provides. The completed stage is 60 feet wide by 48 feet deep and five feet high. All departments must endeavor to use unobstructed pathways into the venue from the loading dock and block out their departmental gear placement areas that do not infringe on the stage erection process. A large percentage of available floor space must remain clear throughout the building process so the carpenters and stagehands are not inhibited in their process. The flow of the large set carts on and off the floor must always be accommodated.

The seven remaining members of the audio crew arrive at the venue after most of the initial planning has been decided. Thomas Morris will inform the crew about the preferred routes the hands will use to get the sound gear from the trucks into the venue. Thomas and I will then share opinions and strategies regarding the proposed audio rigging points. Once in agreement, we will then consult with our riggers if changes are necessary. Thomas and I love the Focus sound system prediction program, but direct observation may dictate a few tweaks to the various projected arrays.

FLEETWOOD MAC © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Bring on the Sound System

At this point in the morning, the sound crew has dispersed to receive the gear flowing into the building from our two semi trucks at the loading dock. This begins the more compartmentalized part of the morning. Stage tech Kenny Hottenstein and I are effectively isolated on the downstage side of the emerging stage structure. If there is enough room, I will begin setting up FOH as I am catching my cases. One of the video trucks often unloads just before or just after our sound truck. So I also have to keep an eye open for FOH video cases coming toward me and place them by the camera risers if necessary. I will also consult with our stage manager and the building crew about the preferred pathway for the audio snake.

Near the downstage left corner of the emerging stage, Kenny Hottenstein is organizing and preparing all the gear he will need on the stage once the decking is completed and the band risers have been set in place. Mic stands are assembled and fitted with their corresponding microphones. Cable cases are positioned around and under the stage structure. Gear to be used onstage is divided between what will be deployed from the floor, or lifted onto the stage from the floor, and or sent to the forklift stationed on the upstage side of the rolling stage.

Once he has received his portion of the gear, monitor engineer Myles Hale retires to a convenient vomitory or isolated corridor off stage left. From that position, he will commence his daily RF frequency scan process. Based on his measurements, Myles will determine the optimal frequencies he will use when resetting the transmitter/receiver frequencies for the various in-ear monitor (IEM) systems and the wireless microphone systems employed in the show. Myles draws from a huge personal database of experience in this area. On a daily basis, Myles’ overall audio expertise and his obvious mixing talents are greatly appreciated by all in the production. It’s been a joy watching a consummate professional doing his job so consistently during these last 16 months.

Monitor tech Chris King has been our truck dock guru throughout the tour. He disappears to deal with our trucks soon after breakfast. He later reappears to deal with AC power once all the sound cases are in the building and distributed to their proper destinations. Chris has incredible energy and his job duties take him everywhere in the building — from working under the stage to setting up a dressing room P.A. to loading/unloading the sound trucks! One of my favorite load-in moments is watching Chris King and Myles Hale place their many cable looms under the stage. The guys don their colorful hardhats and get out their short, wheeled drum thrones to speedily and somewhat comically propel themselves with their feet while placing the cables into the hooks provided under the stage. That spectacle is always good for a smile while I am busily wiring up the FOH rig.

While events in my field of vision are occurring in the middle of the floor, P.A. techs Chris Fulton and Amy Bammarito are busy in what will be the upstage and offstage areas, organizing the equipment and cabling necessary for the stage left and stage right P.A. arrays. Monitor engineer Blake Suib joins them in preparing the hardware, the cable trussing, and the motor control systems that are used to fly the Clair Cohesion-12 arrays and the CP218 flown cardioid subwoofer arrays. It is always our preference to have stage left fly first to clear the way for the two monitor mixing setups and band tech setups that will be moved as soon as the stage has been pushed into place.

Blake and I have been friends a long time, but it still amazes me how much physical energy he expends each day. He is a working dynamo in addition to being a talented monitor engineer. From the first day on the road, Blake volunteered to fly stage left P.A. along with our tour rookie, Amy Bammarito. He immediately took her under his tutelage and quite obviously taught her well. As the tour progressed, Blake handed her more and more individual responsibility. It has been interesting to watch the dynamic progress as Blake and Amy evolved into a very good team. The workflow on stage left has been consistently speedy and efficiently carried out, but always accomplished safely in the Clair time-tested way.

Systems engineer Thomas Morris

‡‡         Flight Ready

As stage left audio gets its points first, there is less of a rush in the actual procedure of getting the system in the air. Blake and Amy are able to hang one column of speakers at a time with one person operating the motor controller and the other person handling the gear along with necessary stagehands. The stage right story, however, is quite different. While the riggers are still busy elsewhere, Chris Fulton works alone for most of the morning. Stage right P.A. rigging points are often among the last that are hung. Chris has to negotiate with and cooperate among the lighting crew, the automation crew and the video crew in allocating the existing real estate on stage right and determining the proper sequence of events that will best enhance workflow. Chris has to be mindful of not blocking access to the floor when laying out and assembling the long run of trussing that supports the flying P.A. cabling.

Thomas Morris helps Chris Fulton out on stage right as much as possible, but, as crew chief, he has to go wherever he may be needed at any given moment. Thomas possesses great communication skills, and it is a joy to watch him interact with all members of the production. He has become amazingly proficient at putting out small fires wherever they crop up. His organizational skills have also improved with each passing day. Thomas is our bridge between the production and the sound company, and he has flourished in this capacity. Thomas is now in his second year of being the system engineer/crew chief and has handled his many responsibilities with grace and skill.

When the stage right sound points are completed and cleared for weight, Thomas and I join Chris Fulton. Together we work to get stage right up as quickly as possible. The first task is to get the flying cabling laid out onto the supporting truss system as rapidly as we can. As soon as I get the power cables to operate them, I begin running up the chain hoists while Chris and Thomas finish with the remaining cables.

Chris, Thomas and the stagehands next work with the P.A. boxes, the cabling and the rigging hardware while I continue to operate the motor controller. This way, we can always have two columns of P.A. being assembled simultaneously. As soon as we get the front-facing column of 16 Cohesion-12s and the cardioid column of six CP218s up to the level at which they clear the band gear and set pieces on the stage, we let our stage manager know he is clear to roll the stage into place. This leads into another of my favorite daytime moments.

From left, Chris King, monitor tech; Blake Suib, monitor engineer; Myles Hale, monitor engineer; and Kenny Hottenstein, monitor tech.

‡‡         All Hands on Deck

All the local hands in the building line up along what will be the downstage side of the stage. Then, like a scene from The Ten Commandments, all humanity begins to push and grunt and howl. I always think I will see Charlton Heston somewhere out there striding along with the local labor to guide the big stage into its final position. During this tour, I find I have become a big fan of the rolling stage concept — in all its aspects. Once all concerned parties have signed off on the stage placement, we all emerge from the various corners of the building and the sound crew falls into a more traditional load-in routine.

This story will continue next month. Until then…Safe Travels!

Click on the link to continue to Part 2 of this adventure:



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