…And Then There’s the Other Guy

in LD at Large

Illustration by Andy AuLast month, I wrote about the benefits of working with some small lighting companies. But this article is dedicated to the shoddy lighting vendors out there. They will promise you the world and an abundance of fabulous gear. But as soon as you get to the gig, it doesn’t take long to realize some salesman/owner of a little company has bent you over a barrel. I’m like an elephant. I don’t forget these people.

Forlorn in the Corn

Last month I did a gig that reminded me why I never call an audio company to supply lighting. Quite a few audio vendors have decided that they can make some easy money supplying 120K of PARs and some cheap movers to augment their shows. Why hire a real lighting company when they can take all the money and keep using fixtures that appear to have been focused with ball-peen hammers for years? They hand me ancient moving lights with hopes that I won’t bitch that half of them are missing parts. As I advance this particular gig in the middle of an Illinois cornfield, I can already feel the vise turning on my brain. The show is a benefit for some cancer kids. In gigs like this, I will use whatever gear is available. But at the same time, I know there will be over 10,000 people on site, and it’s my job to give them a great show. Just like I wouldn’t expect my boss to do a half-ass show just because he’s playing in Podunk.

I have one request. A grandMA console. But the owner calls me to explain that all he owns is an Avo. I have nothing against Avolites. They make a fine desk, but unfortunately I cannot program one, and they are not suited to my style of punting. I require 30 active faders and a bunch of flash buttons that I can utilize to grab any cue quickly. I tell him again that I cannot use the Avo Pearl for this reason. He responds emphatically, “This is not a Pearl. This is the latest, Avo Triton. We have 60 faders and you can put whatever you want on each fader.” “Really? I thought the Triton was the operating system, not the desk,” I reply. “No, no, you have it all wrong Nook, I’ve got the latest greatest, yada yada.” I tell him that I’m not convinced. My band will pay the extra money out of pocket for my choice of consoles. But he swears it’s so, and does his best sales routine to convince me to use his desk. I cave in after he agrees to supply me with a programmer who knows the console.


I get to the gig and there’s an Avo Pearl at the front of house. Indeed it says Triton on it, but it has only 20 true playback faders and no executor buttons. Nobody on site can patch, let alone write a cue on this desk, including me. We are about 100 miles from Chicago. A city that has more reputable lighting companies than anywhere else I know of. But the scum-sucking owner of this console probably does not wish to forgo his own $200 rental fee for his own desk. He doesn’t care that the 10,000 folks there get the best show they can. He’s concerned about his own wallet. My programmer arrives two hours late, as the company had him on another show last night. He is genuinely a good kid and quite knowledgeable with the desk. I have had two hours to prepare and, since there are 60 faders above the playback masters, I give him my list of 80 cues I need written in the next few hours.

After glancing at this, he asks me which cues I want on which page. “You don’t understand son, I am running this whole show on the fly. I will be punting from one single page.” He quickly pointed out what I already knew. “I can only program 20 cues per page. The 60 faders are to build attributes for the cues on those 20 faders. Who told you I could do this?” I inform him that his boss says he can do it. “Ah man, that guy doesn’t have a clue about lighting. He owns an audio company. He lied to you.” By this point, I’m over it, and I have run this console enough in the past to know that I can run it in program mode and make the other faders change color, gobos and focus positions. As usual, I ask the Avo programmer if he knows how to make a stack of cues on one fader. He informs me that while he knows it can be done, he doesn’t know how. Why is it that I’ve met a hundred Avo programmers over the years, but have only met two who know how to make a theater stack of cues on one playback fader? For chrissakes people, if you spend thousands on a piece of gear, shouldn’t you figure out how to use it properly?

During the afternoon, the rain came down hard. We switched off the desk and all power. Thirty minutes before the show, we go to fire up the console. It was dry, but for some reason Windows will not boot up. I ask him to set up the spare. The kid hangs his head in shame. I recognize this look. The desk is down and we are 100 miles from nowhere. Finally, after opening it up for the third time and reseating every chip and wiggling wires, the console starts up and I limp through a weak show.

Hit or Miss

San Francisco is a big town. One would think that there would be a state-of-the-art lighting shop there. But I have yet to find it. There is no shortage of small rental shops that do a good job and have okay gear. But the problem lies with the techs that set it up. I seem to find the good and bad ones. Last week I played a couple of wineries that do nice laid-back shows in cool venues. The same lighting company supplied the gear for both venues. One gig was truly great. My tech was all over everything. He had me set up, gelled, patched and ready to go in an hour. The gear may have been old, but it functioned flawlessly. But the next day I get to a gig that has weight restrictions and just conventional lighting. I’m not afraid to go old-school and I keep a positive attitude. But it takes twice as long today for two techs to get it together, with less gear than the single guy had yesterday.

Fixtures are broken, bulbs are blown, wrong lamps are in the wrong PARs. Multi cables are plugged in the wrong places. I ask the tech why he’s having so many problems. “Well, we pack the gear up and go from show to show all summer long and we never get a chance to fix anything.” Really. Is that all you got, kid? “You have nothing to do from 2:30 this afternoon until 8 p.m. How about you drive back to your shop, get me gels that are all the same color, get me the right lamps for the fixtures, and grab some new cables to replace the broken ones?” He looks at me wide-eyed, because he realizes I’m serious. “Ah man, I’m just the tech here. I can’t make that happen for you today,” and he chuckles. That’s okay. When my LD buddies and I are sitting around at a bar swapping war stories, I will chuckle back as I make sure to tell them to think twice about using your company, as it’s obviously hit or miss with the technical department. And when in the state of Illinois, request a lighting company from Chicago. They will be smart enough to bring a spare console.