The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour

in Production Profile

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve Jennings“Since I started working with The Rolling Stones back in 1982,” says longtime lighting designer and show director, Patrick Woodroffe, “the background to the planning for a tour would always be the same. The band would get together and ask a question. ‘Should we go on tour?’ If the answer was ‘Yes,’ they would then commit to a year and a half on the road, and we’d be off. Mark Fisher and I would design a production, spending millions and millions of dollars on the grounds that this would be amortized over 160 performances or whatever. But they don’t work like that now.”

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsThe Stage

Patrick points out that the band hasn’t gone out with an over-the-top production since the Bigger Bang tour, which ran from 2005-2007. The challenge the design team had with this tour was to build a show that could play arenas as well as stadiums, but also to bear in mind that they might only do 12 to 15 dates. He continues, “The last time out, the band played maybe a dozen shows between Abu Dhabi and Japan, and that was it. But the stage set that we created, the lighting and the video, all had to be of a standard that was as good as any of the Rolling Stones shows of the last 30 years, and it had to have the scale of a stadium show. So it seemed to me the best way to do this cost-effectively was to have really big video screens and great video direction with some good video content to keep it interesting, but then to make the video screens themselves an interesting shape and frame them in an elegant and unusual fashion.”

This was the first stage set in 25 years that Mark Fisher hadn’t designed. After his death, that responsibility passed to Ray Winkler and Ric Lipson from Stufish. Patrick goes on, “In its own way, I think this is as good as any set we’ve had in the past. It’s different, and it doesn’t have that huge statement that Mark was so good at, but that is simply because of the limitations of a shorter tour. I really think we got it right. We found a way to keep the scale and the majesty and drama of a big Rolling Stones concert while making it manageable and affordable.”

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsTait built the scenic elements, which included the massive frames that surround the video screens. Woodroffe points out that these scenic artistic pieces are made up so they can be lit in three different ways. First of all, there is the look one sees when the audience walks in. The panels are light brown in color and have a lot of sexy curves to them. Without being illuminated, they still make quite a presence. On the front of the surrounds is plenty of RGB rope light fashioned to look precisely like neon light. These pieces are broken down into many separate elements that can chase with great effect. To give the structure even more depth, it was designed with LED tape hidden behind parts of it, providing a backlight sort of glow that makes the whole structure look three dimensional and pop.

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsThe Lighting

Back at the helm as lighting director is Ethan Weber, who has a long history lighting the band. We spoke with him the day before the show to get some insight on the tour. He takes us on a tour of the light rig.

“There are eight straight trusses running up and down stage, each with five [Vari*Lite] VL3500FX’s and four Clay Paky Mythos. We have some [Martin] MAC Vipers on the downstage truss for key-lighting the stationary musicians. The upstage truss has 11 Vipers and five top-mounted Lycian 2.5K truss spots for backlighting the principals. There are two torms flanking the rear video wall, each with four 3500FX’s and three Vipers as well as three Vipers per side on the downstage Stageco towers to fill it out the picture. Floor lights line the side runways with a variety of fixtures including Mythos, Vipers, 3500FX’s and some Sharpy washes. There are also [Philips] ColorKinetics iWBlasts lining the long runway that leads into the audience. These white LED fixtures are used not only to uplight Mick, Keith and Ronnie when they go out on the runway, but also to delineate it — [it’s] hard to see the end/edges with a 4K spotlight in the eyes.”

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsProgramming of this particular show has actually been going on for two years, as Ethan explains. “Dave Hill was there for the original Stones 50th Anniversary shows in 2013 and programmed for an arena show. In 2014, the band went out with a stadium show. We based the re-light on Dave’s original cueing, but had to flesh it out to work with a new set and to fill the bigger venues. Later in 2014, Patrick, Terry Cook and Stufish gave us the current set and lighting layout. With the help of programmer Eric Marchwinski, we re-lit again, and it’s been evolving since with some minor/major fixture changes depending on continent/lighting vendor.”

The 50th Anniversary tour was an arena tour and supposed to be five shows. But unexpectedly, the five shows turned into an arena run for two months, which turned into a half stadium/arena run, then onto various stages. “It’s gone through many different variations,” says Weber. “In Asia, we were using pickup systems wherever we went. Terry Cook from Patrick’s office would advance the lighting and try to turn whatever the locals had into some semblance of our show. I got to play with some interesting fixtures in some interesting configurations. There were some very long days and nights getting the shows in order, but the payoffs were big — as soon as Keith starts in on ‘Jumping Jack Flash,’ you know all the long hours had been worthwhile.”

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsEthan also explains, “There’s been a lot of variation in the tour. Mick, especially, doesn’t want it to get stale. The Stones have changed the way they tour — now the tour runs are two months, with 14 or 15 shows. We’ve done arena shows, two different versions of stadiums, festivals, theaters, clubs and a private. I have 50 songs programmed for an ever-evolving set-list.”

Ethan explains how he works with Patrick on the cueing. “Both Dave and I have been involved with Patrick and the Stones for over 20 years. I think we both have a pretty good idea of how he would like the band lit and how they like to be lit. Our job is twofold — during programming, we try to make it so that Patrick can concentrate on his role as show designer, overseeing not only lighting but also scenic and video and liaising with the band. Patrick will generally give us the broad strokes and then leave it to Dave or me to fill in the rest. During the show, my job is to make it so that the band can concentrate on performing and not give the lighting — spot or stage — a second thought.

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve Jennings“It’s great working with Patrick,” Weber expands. “The fact that I can concentrate on the lighting and he’ll take care of the bigger picture helps a lot. We’ll generally spend time going over things in rehearsals and he’ll let us know if we’re going in the right direction, then leave it to us to finish the cue-to-cue. It’s always a pleasure to be around him and watch how he works. Not many people can communicate with so many so well, and he’s always very positive about things.

“We have about 200 moving lights, and that’s all we really need. It’s the Rolling Stones, after all — we could do a show with just the stadium lights on, and the fans would have a good time.”

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsThe Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsWeber explains that, after all these years, he seldom gets any comments from the band. Except perhaps once! “Sympathy For The Devil” had traditionally been lit in its literal color, red. The LDs tried to change things up by lighting the song in purple on one tour and, in so doing, triggered the one lighting comment Keith Richards had ever given. Weber tells us, “He said that ‘Sympathy is RED. It has always been red and will continue to be red!’  We find there’s nothing wrong if you’ve been lighting a signature song for 20 years in the same way, the same color, the same look. Maybe we’ve seen it a hundred times that way, but for many in the audience they’re seeing it for the first time.”  Weber also notes that “The band does not play a song the same way twice.” Hence, this show is one that has no use for time code.

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsThe Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsFront of house spots are eight brand new Robert Juliat 4K Lancelot fixtures. They are mounted on the stage side of the PA towers and are stacked one on top of the other. “They’re bright,” say’s Weber, “but it’s hard, because our spot shots are relatively low. They can be blinding and also tend to wash out the stage if we’re not careful. We’re using Upstaging on this tour — a great company with well prepped/looked after gear and quality crews. Crew-chiefing has been expertly handled, first by Ron Schilling and now Seth Conlin.”

The Video

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsSteve Fatone from Orlando, FL is cutting the cameras for the show this go round. He was brought into the fold when the previous directors were unavailable for the run. Bob Brigham from PRG Nocturne threw his name into the mix, as Woodroffe had worked with him previously on Lady Gaga.

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve Jennings“Steve has obviously done his homework,” notes Woodroffe. “I can honestly say that the first show he cut for us in San Diego was as good of a bit of camera direction as I have ever seen on a Rolling Stones show. Considering it was his first time working with the band, that’s great testament to his abilities.”

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsThe entire video system includes the center video wall (53 by 26.5 feet, WxH) as well as the two enormous side LED walls (each 44 by 48 feet, WxH). The center screen is made up of PRG Nocturne’s Saco V18 18mm LED, while the offstage LED walls are Saco V28 28mm medium-res tiles. Fatone is using one of the new Flypack systems (see “Road Test,” this issue, page 61) for switching cameras. Steve points out, “We have a 12-man team, led by crew chief Ben Rader, out here because of all the LED product. This means that everyone manning a camera on this show is a video technician as well.” Steve points out that approximately 85 percent of the time the LED screens are showing I-Mag shots from the cameras.

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsFor cameras, Steve has two handhelds in the pit as well as one on stage (often referred to as Charlie Watts’ cameraman). Veteran cameraman Rick Trimmer mans the jib out front. Two long lens cameras are at FOH. One simple robocam is utilized. Steve points out that he needs that camera at times to pick up auxiliary players on stage such as the background singers.

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsThe media consists of an opening video and a few other custom pieces that were put together by Sam Pattinson, the longtime video producer for the Stones, who coordinated the playback times and delivery of the final content he has made for the show. The media is played back through two Mbox media servers that are not run off a lighting desk. The operator uses Medialon show control software from a computer to control the servers. Woodroffe says that Sam does a first-rate job in producing the content, but adds that this year he found some other inspiration for a song.

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve Jennings“Several years ago, I received an email from a fellow named Gavin Heffernan from Sunchaser Pictures. He is a photographer who does some great time lapse work with stars and setting suns, etc. I had no idea what I could use his work for at the time, but I asked him to keep in contact every once in a while and to send me interesting stuff to look at. When we started this tour up, there was talk about playing the Sticky Fingers album in its entirety. We didn’t think we could get away with it in a stadium, but we ended up doing just that at the Fonda Theater last week,” he said. (That show took place in the 1,200-capacity venue on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles on May 20). “One of the songs on the album is ‘Moonlight Mile,’ and it occurred to me that we could finally use some of Gavin’s work. I called him, and within two weeks he had delivered a beautiful piece of content that perfectly matched the song.”

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsLogistics

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsWhile he may have a new title, he is still the same old “Opie.” Dale Skjerseth was once again called upon for his expertise in putting a large production together. His official title is production director on the Zip Code tour. Opie is juggling his time between two productions at the moment, this one and the AC/DC tour. He explains his role in how the tour came together. “As with all major tours, the rumors start flying months before any shows are actually booked. There was word the Stones may get together for a short run, but they did not actually pull the trigger and confirm with me until six weeks before the first date.” He had his fingers in a few other pies because other clients of his started committing to tours simultaneously. That gave him time to start getting the logistics together and cement the touring staff in place.

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve Jennings“Of course, I could never say ‘no’ to the Stones. I love working with these guys. The best way to get this tour rolling was by surrounding myself with great crew starting with production manager George Reeves and production coordinator Lizzie Scace. Plus Maya Gas, who runs the production office with us. They take care of the advancing and day-to-day operations of the tour now that it’s out the door. I stop in now to make sure everything is running smoothly.”

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsProduction manager Reeves is known as a soft-spoken man who gets the job done. Having moved up the ranks over his 20-year touring career, he finds himself juggling hats with Opie on other projects as well. As for the Stones, George has this to say: “Every tour, large or small, is driven by its crew. When you are surrounded by dedicated people that truly enjoy their gig, its amazing how easy and fun it can still be.”

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsStage manager Kurt Wagner explains how streamlined the load-in and outs are. “We are playing stadiums with only 19 trucks. Some are quite full, but we try and roll most of the gear on and move on to the next semi so we don’t spend six hours loading them. This is way more cost efficient than the OT bills we would get for packing the trucks solid. We arrived on site and Bart Durbin, one of the site coordinators has the stage ready for us. We load in the sound, lights and video the day before each show so Ethan can focus and work on his lights. The video guys can tweak their stuff while it’s dark out. On the morning of the show, we bring the backline gear in and sound check.”

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsThere are two different staging companies that put up the mammoth steel structures necessary for this production. Weber points out, “This is the first time in my career with the band that they have ever played the outdoor shows under an actual roof, with lighting suspended from it.” In the past, the Stones have always played under a huge wide-open structure where the set design utilized large-scale video and lighting configurations in unusual compositions rather than the traditional overhead stage.

The Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photo by Steve JenningsIn the End

In closing, Woodroffe suggests that this is a particularly interesting time in the Rolling Stones career. “There is a lot of joy in the way that the Stones are performing now. There’s no real reason for them to be doing this at their age except that they love what they do and there’s a huge demand for people to come and see them perform. The only reason to stop is if they can’t play and I would contest that they are playing better now than they have at any point in their career.”


Crew

LD/Show Director: Patrick Woodroffe/Woodroffe Bassett Design

Lighting Director: Ethan Weber

Programming: Eric Marchwinski, Dave Hill, Terry Cook

Production Director: Dale “Opie” Skjerseth

Production Management: George Reeves, Lizzie Scace, Maya Gas

Stage Manager: Kurt Wagner

Lighting Co: Upstaging

Lighting Crew Chiefs: Ron Schilling, Seth Conlin

Lighting Crew: Randy Garret, Josh Welch (Dimmers); Ryan Tilke, Josh Barnes, Ray Castro, Amanda “Cupcake” Ritchie, Owen Zoars (Techs); Brian Reed, Tony “2K” Quinn (Spot Techs)

Video Co: PRG Nocturne

Video Director: Steve Fatone

Assistant Video Director: Nick Keiser

Video Crew Chief/Engineer: Gene McAuliffe

Video Crew: Ben Rader (LED 1), Scott Grund (LED 2), Adam Cline (LED 3), Rick Trimmer (Jib Operator); Mike Johnson, Roger Rubey, Cliff Hannon, Matt Thonus, Randy Llamas (Camera Ops)

Set Design: Stufish/Ray Winkler, Ric Lipson

Scenic Elements: Tait


Gear

Lighting:

74 Vari*Lite VL3500 Wash FX

58 Martin MAC Viper Profiles

44 Clay Paky Mythos fixtures

14 Clay Paky Sharpy Wash fixtures

60 Color Kinetics iW Blast fixtures

32 4 lite Moles

12 9 lite Moles

5 Lycian M2 short throw truss spots

8 Robert Juliat 4K Lancelot followspots

4 Le Maitre Stadium Hazers

2 MDG Atmosphere H.O. hazers

2 Reel EFX DF-50 Diffusion hazers

8 Martin Jem AF-1 fans

2 Martin Jem AF-2 fans

4 London Fan pedestal fans


Video:

1 Main video wall (Saco V18 18mm; 52’11’’ x 26’5’’ WxH)

2 Side screens (Saco V28 28mm; 44’1’’ x 48’6’’ WxH)

1 PRG Nocturne custom flypack w/Grass Valley Karrera switcher, LDX cameras


For more Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour photos by Steve Jennings, go to http://plsn.me/rollingstonesplsn2015


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